Merging correctly onto the freeway is important. Failure to do so can lead to car accidents. It is a common misconception that drivers who are merging onto the freeway in California have the right-of-way.
So, who does have the right of way when merging onto the freeway in California? The actual answer is that nobody does.
There is no section of the California vehicle code which specifically deals with the right-of-way when merging onto a freeway. Instead, merging onto a freeway is considered to be the same thing as changing lanes on a freeway by the vehicle code.
The section of the California vehicle code which deals with changing lanes on a freeway is California Vehicle Code Section 22107.
California Vehicle Code Section 22107
California Vehicle Code Section 22107 states that “No person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter in the event any other vehicle may be affected by the movement.”
In other words:
- Drivers who are merging onto the freeway must not enter the adjacent lane until it is reasonably safe to do so
- Drivers who are merging onto the freeway must use their turn signal to indicate that they are doing so
But What About The California Driver’s Handbook?
The California Driver’s Handbook states that “highway traffic has the right-of-way” when merging onto a freeway. However, according to a California Highway Patrol Lieutenant, this is simply the DMV’s opinion, and this opinion is not based upon the California vehicle code.
That CHP Lieutenant told The Press Enterprise, “both parties work it out. Neither has the right of way.” Drivers should simply use common sense and caution to speed up or slow down so parties in each merging lane can fluidly merge into one lane of traffic.
But What About California Vehicle Code 21804(a)?
California Vehicle Code Section 20804(a) reads, “The driver of any vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from any public or private property, or from an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all traffic, as defined in Section 620, approaching on the highway close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that traffic until he or she can proceed with reasonable safety.”
So, does this mean that freeway traffic has the right-of-way over traffic merging onto the freeway? No. This does not mean that freeway traffic has the right-of-way over traffic merging onto the freeway, and the reason why is the way the word “highway” is defined by the California Vehicle Code.
California Vehicle Code Section 360 defines the word “highway” as “a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.” That section of the vehicle code also reads, “Highway includes street.”
In other words, all public roads intended for vehicular travel are considered highways by the California vehicle code.
Thus, a freeway on-ramp is considered a highway. You are already on a highway when you are on a freeway on-ramp, so California Vehicle Code Section 20804(a) does not apply to merging onto a freeway. That section of the vehicle code generally applies to entering roadways from driveways or alleyways, not merging onto freeways.
How To Safely Merge Onto The Freeway
In order to safely merge onto the freeway:
- Ensure you are in the correct on-ramp lane.
- Be traveling at or around the same speed as the rest of traffic.
- Merge into freeway traffic when it is safe to do so – don’t stop unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.
- Merge into a spot which is big enough for you to safely enter.
- Use your turn signals and mirrors, and use your turn signal many seconds ahead of your merging.
- Check your blind spot by quickly turning your head and looking over your shoulder before merging or changing lanes.
- Leave three seconds of space in between yourself and any vehicle in front of you in order to ensure you can safely stop.
- Don’t cross over solid lines while merging. If it is necessary to cross multiple lanes, use your turn signal and only cross one lane at a time. Check your blind spot each time you change lanes.
Common Merging Accident Causes
While the California Vehicle Code does not technically specify that any specific driver has the right-of-way when a driver is merging onto the freeway, it is usually the merging driver’s fault when a merging accident occurs in California.
Common causes of merging accidents include:
- Drivers who merge into traffic at speeds which are unsafe – either too slow or too fast
- Drivers who fail to use their turn signals
- Drivers who fail to check their blind spots
- Drivers who cross numerous lanes of traffic
- Drivers who merge too close behind or in front of other vehicles
- Drunk drivers
- Distracted drivers
- Drivers with vehicles in disrepair
Common scenarios in which merging accidents occur include:
- A merging driver doesn’t see another car until after beginning to merge, and overcorrects to try to avoid an accident. This overcorrection can lead to a spinout, where the driver still strikes the vehicle and also loses control, putting other motorists at risk.
- A driver tries to merge in front of a semi truck, causing the trucker to panic and brake hard to avoid an accident. It is difficult for semi trucks to brake quickly because they are so heavy. When semi truck drivers try to brake too quickly, they can skid, lose control, roll over or jackknife, and catastrophic accidents can result.
- When merging drivers misjudge the space they have to merge into or misjudge the speed of neighboring traffic, they can merge straight into another vehicle’s rear end or cause another vehicle to collide with their rear end.
- When motorists fail to check their blind spots while merging, they can cause another vehicle to slam into them.
Why Are Merging Accidents Dangerous?
Merging accidents often end up being sideswipe accidents. Vehicles in sideswipe accidents often lose control and end up traveling off of the road or into other lanes of traffic.
Also, vehicle sides don’t have bumpers or other reinforcements to the vehicle structure that the front and rear of a vehicle have, making vehicle occupants especially vulnerable to being injured in a sideswipe accident.
Damage and injuries can be very severe when merging accidents happen between vehicles and large trucks. The smaller vehicle can sometimes become pinned and trapped underneath the truck.
The injuries which occur in merging accidents can be catastrophic or fatal. They may include:
- Bruises, scrapes and cuts
- Fractured bones
- Deep cuts
- Back, neck and head injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Soft tissue injuries
- Injuries to the spinal cord
- Injuries to internal organs
Who Is At Fault For A Merging Accident In California?
Vehicles which are maintaining their own lane position are usually not at fault for merging accidents in California. The merging vehicle must not merge into the adjacent lane until it is safe to do so, so merging accidents are usually considered the fault of the merging driver.
However, there are some scenarios in which the merging driver is not at fault, or in which multiple drivers are at fault:
- If either driver is driving while distracted or drunk, driving recklessly, speeding, or otherwise driving unlawfully
- If two drivers try to change lanes simultaneously
- If a merging driver is rear-ended after safely merging into traffic
- If a merging driver is misled by another vehicle’s malfunction, like faulty headlights or brake lights
What Should I Do If I’m Injured In A Merging Accident In California?
If you have been injured in a merging accident in California, the experienced car accident lawyers at Nadrich & Cohen can help you recover financial compensation for your injuries. This may include compensation for:
- Medical bills: You may already be facing medical bills, and you may need medical treatments in the future. We can help you recover money for all past and future medical bills related to your accident.
- Lost wages: You may have missed time from work because you were too hurt to work or because you had to take time off from work to attend medical appointments. We can help you recover money for any wages you were unable to earn because of your accident.
- Loss of earning potential: Your accident may have caused you to be unable to ever work again or unable to do the job you used to do again. We can help you recover compensation for any loss or reduction of your earning potential.
- Pain and suffering: Car accidents can cause a lot of physical pain and mental suffering and we can help you recover compensation for this pain and suffering.
- Wrongful death: If you lost a loved one to a merging accident, we can help you recover compensation for the loss of their income, love, companionship and household services. We can also help you recover compensation for their medical bills, funeral bills, burial bills, pain and suffering.
We have been representing injured motorists since 1990. We have recovered over $350,000,000 for our clients in that time. We are experienced, aggressive, battle-tested auto accident lawyers who understand the ins and outs of merging accident law. If a merging accident wasn’t your fault, we can prove to an insurance company, judge or jury that it wasn’t your fault and that someone else is financially liable for your injuries. If a merging accident was partially your fault, we can make sure that your percentage of fault is minimized in any settlement or judgment in order to maximize the compensation you recover for your injuries.
We won’t charge you a fee to represent you until and unless we recover money for you. That is our no fee promise. You will never owe us any money out of your own pocket. You will never owe us any upfront fee. The only fee we charge is a percentage of any money we recover for you.
Insurance companies won’t pay you what you deserve for your injuries unless they know you can sue them over a lowball offer and win. They know you can’t sue them and win without a lawyer. Hiring us sends a message to insurance companies that if they don’t pay you what you deserve, you’ll sue them and win. Almost all of our cases settle out of court because insurance companies know about our reputation. They know that if they take us on in court, they’ll lose.
We can handle all communications with insurance companies for you, which is important, because it’s dangerous for you to talk with insurance companies. Insurance adjusters are trained to trick you into saying things they can take advantage of in order to pay you less money or no money at all. We know all of their tricks and won’t fall for them. When you hire us, you can rest assured you won’t have to worry about accidentally incriminating yourself while dealing with an insurance company.
Not only will we deal with the insurance companies for you, but we’ll handle every aspect of your case for you. The last thing you need is to handle a stressful, difficult, time-consuming injury claim by yourself after being in an accident. Let us handle the entire legal process for you while you focus on recovering from your injuries.
Call us today for a free consultation or text us from this page if you or a loved one was injured in a merging accident in California. You may qualify for financial compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering and more.