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‘Hold my beer’ not a wise choice: On legend, reality of right-of-way

Guest Opinion

Have you ever heard the term urban legend? An urban legend is defined as a modern story of obscure origin and with little or no supporting evidence that spreads spontaneously in varying forms. There are many urban legends in circulation, some of them funny, some horrifying and some downright unbelievable. One only has to stand in line at the grocery store and look at the tabloid covers to see many urban legends in play.

Occasionally an urban legend takes on a form that can actually put a person at risk of injury to themselves or at the very least damage to their or someone else’s property. Take for example the urban legend that has been afoot in Grangeville for decades. As the legend goes, drivers are led to believe that when travelling on north-south streets they have the right-of-way and that drivers travelling on the east-west streets are to yield the right of way to those on the north-south streets. One of the many explanations I have heard for this urban legend is that at one time the north-south streets were paved and the east-west streets were not so the right-of-way was given to the paved streets. No one I have talked to about this has ever been able to tell me how this myth was started or who started it, but like many urban legends it seems to have taken hold and in one form or another has become a commonly held belief.

So, in an effort to educate and to shed some light on this urban legend, let’s look at what Idaho Code section 49-640 says. Now this would normally be where we would insert the long winded and clear as mud legal definition from the Idaho code. I know, I know, no one would read it anyways so let’s fast forward to the plain and simple explanation of right-of-way as it relates to uncontrolled intersections. What it boils down to is this: If you are approaching a four-way intersection that is not controlled in either direction by a stop or yield sign and another car is approaching from your right (passenger side of your vehicle) and you are coming into the intersection at approximately the same time, you need to stop and let the person coming from the right go through the intersection first. This is where the term “yielding the right-of-way” comes from.

Great, you say. But what about “T” intersections, now what do you do? It’s really simpler than it sounds. If you are driving on a street that ends at an intersection with another street, then you are at a “T” intersection. If you are on the street that ends at the “T” intersection you yield to the traffic approaching you from both your left and right and only proceed when it is safe to do so. OK, you say. But how about giving us an example that is relevant to Grangeville?

Here goes. You are driving your car east-bound on Lincoln Street approaching the intersection at South Idaho Street. As you near the intersection you see traffic approaching from your left (driver’s side of your vehicle) that is too close to avoid if one of you doesn’t yield. Do you:

  • A - Expect the other driver to yield to you because you have the right-of-way since they are approaching from your left?
  • B - Yield the right-of-way because you are at a “T” intersection and are on the portion of the roadway that ends so cross traffic from both directions has the right-of-way?
  • Look at your passenger and say “Hold my beer, watch this!” and gun out in front of the oncoming vehicle?

If you chose A, you are probably going to get hit by the other car and be at fault in the accident. If you chose B, and yielded the right of way to cross traffic you were correct and didn’t get hit by cross traffic coming from either the left or right. If you said, “Hold my beer, watch this,” then we have a whole different set of problems and we need to have a serious discussion about drinking and driving!

While this is not an all-inclusive discussion on right-of-way, we hope that it was educational, maybe a little humorous and helped to dispel one of Grangeville’s urban legends. Drive informed, drive safe!


By City of Grangeville Chief of Police Morgan Drew and Public Works Director Jeff McFrederick.


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