We cannot always rely on traffic signals to tell us what to do. Often, we have to deal with unmarked intersections, and when that happens we have to know the right-of-way laws in order to ensure that we avoid accidents.

Summary of Iowa's right-of-way laws

The right-of-way laws in Iowa can be summarized as follow:


  • If you are turning right after an intersection on a red light after stopping, you can do so provided that you yield the right of way to vehicles approaching on the green light.

  • If you are exiting an alley, driveway, or crossing a sidewalk, you have to yield to pedestrians. You must also yield to traffic that are already in the road.

  • A blind pedestrian usually walking with a white cane or accompanied by a guide dog, always has the right of way in any intersection, no matter what the traffic signals show.

  • Left-turning vehicles must yield the right of way to vehicles that are going straight.

  • As a matter of safety, you must always yield the right of way to people on bicycles, even if they should be yielding to you. This is because a cyclist is far more vulnerable than a motorist.

  • If there is no traffic light or stop sign, you must yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the right.

  • At a four-way stop, the first person to arrive at the intersection has the right of way.

Emergency vehicles

  • You must invariably yield the right of way to a police car, ambulance, fire truck or any other emergency vehicle when hearing a siren, air horn and seeing flashing lights.

  • If you can pull over onto the shoulder, you do not have to stop – it is sufficient to slow down and let the vehicle pass.

  • If you are in an intersection, and an emergency vehicle is coming from behind, proceed through the intersection and then pull over.

Common misconceptions about Iowa's right-of-way laws

Many Iowa drivers believe that in certain circumstances, they are entitled to the right of way. The fact is, Iowa’s laws does not give the right of way to anyone. You have the right of way only when another motorist yields it to you, and you are required by law to do everything you can to avoid a collision, or hitting a pedestrian or cyclist, regardless of your position in traffic.

Penalties for failing to yield

There is no points system in the State of Iowa, so you will not have demerits attached to your driver’s license if you fail to yield. You will, however, be subject to a fine of $100 with surcharges that will bring the total to $262.50 for the fine. And if you persist in violating the law (i.e. if you accumulate three violations in any given year), you could have your license suspended.

For further information, refer to the Iowa Driver's Manual, pages 34-35.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as The Guide to Right-of-Way Laws in Iowa and was authored by Valerie Johnston.

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