Right-of-Way Rules on Mountain Roads: Navigating Steep Narrow PathsUpdated July 3, 2020
Right-of-way rules help drivers to avoid conflict on all our nation’s roadways, even lesser-traveled mountain roads. You can assume that all standard right-of-way laws apply here, just as they would anywhere else. However, mountain driving can be treacherous and does require some extra consideration. As a result, there are a couple of additional right-of-way rules to learn which relate specifically to mountain and hill driving, which are outlined in this article.
Downhill-facing drivers must yield
If two vehicles traveling in opposite directions meet on a steep, single-lane mountain road, the driver facing downhill must yield to the driver facing uphill. In this situation, you must reverse carefully until the uphill-facing driver has enough room to pass safely. This right-of-way rule has been established as motorists generally have better control of their vehicles when reversing uphill, than when reversing downhill.
When driving downhill on a mountain road, you can avoid conflict and save yourself from backing up by stopping and yielding to oncoming vehicles at any point where the roadway narrows to a single lane. Remember this and keep a look out for narrowed stretches of roadway ahead.
Warning other motorists
Right-of-way conflicts on narrow mountain roads can often be avoided, by using your horn or headlights to warn opposing traffic of your presence. In some states, tapping your horn at any point where you cannot see at least 200 feet ahead is a legal requirement. Be sure to check out local traffic laws in your state’s driving manual. Sounding your horn can be a useful precaution when tight curves and steep hills obscure your view of opposing traffic.
Activating your low beam headlights is another effective way to avoid conflicts and collisions on mountain roads. When your headlamps are on, opposing traffic will be able to see the light around blind curves and over hills. In California and several other states, keeping your headlights on while driving on mountain roads is mandatory. Even if when it is not legally required, leaving your headlights on in low-visibility environments is a smart move.
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