Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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Overview of the rules of the road

Proper turn | Passing | Right of way | Emergency vehicles | Livestock

Making a proper turn

Right turns

Both the approach and the turn must be made as closely as you can to the right hand curb or shoulder. Long trailers or vehicles which can't stay in one lane while making a turn can deviate but must be careful about other traffic.

Left turns

Approach and complete the turn in the farthest left lane available to traffic moving in your direction. Usually this will be the lane just to the right of the center line. Turning from or into a one way street the appropriate lane may be the one next to the curb unless it's obstructed or restricted.

Roundabouts

Follow the same rules provided above. However, semi trailers and other long vehicles generally can’t stay in one lane at roundabouts. All drivers should avoid driving next to or passing trucks while approaching and maneuvering through a roundabout. Even the straight through movement requires some turning, a truck may cross into other lanes.

Turn signal use

State law requires the use of turn signals when changing lanes or making a turn. A turn signal is not required at the approach/entry to a roundabout. The only time a signal should be used is when you are about to exit from a roundabout. Use your right turn signal for this maneuver. If you need to change lanes prior to entering the roundabout to be in the correct lane for your exit, make sure to use your turn signal before the lane change.

In all cases in which state or local authorities have marked the pavement or erected signs indicating that vehicles in your lane may or must follow a particular direction then these are the directions to follow.

Passing another vehicle

Usually you are required to drive on the right hand side of a two-lane street or highway. One of the occasions during which it is legal to drive on the left side of a two-lane road or highway is when you are legally passing another vehicle.

When you pass on a two lane road you must leave the right lane early enough and remain in the left lane long enough to pass without interfering with the other vehicle. It's your responsibility when passing to make sure it's safe. It is the other driver's responsibility to give way and let you pass without speeding up. Of course you cannot pass in a no passing zone designated by signs or a solid yellow line on the pavement on your side of the center line.

Take extra care when passing bicycles. They must be given at least three feet of clearance.

It is legal to pass a bus stopped on the road, taking on or letting off passengers unless it's a school bus. But it is not legal to turn right in the intersection directly in front of the bus. If you need to turn right, wait behind the bus until it moves away.

You may not pass another vehicle within 100 feet of railroad tracks, a tunnel or an intersection, unless there are two or more lanes of traffic in your direction.

Right-of-way

At many intersections, passage is controlled by some kind of traffic control device, a light or sign. But where it isn't, vehicles which approach the intersection at about the same time have similar rights. So who goes first?

If the cars approach at right angles to each other, the vehicle on the right has the right of way and the one to the left must wait.

If two vehicles approach an intersection from opposite directions and one wants to turn left across the other's path, the turning vehicle must wait until the other has passed.

If one road terminates at an intersection and the other goes through, as in a "T" intersection, vehicles on the through section have right of way over those on the road which terminates.

In all cases, when it's your turn, proceed cautiously. Make eye contact with other drivers if you can. Never challenge another driver for the right of way, but when it's your turn, don't hesitate to proceed if the way is clear.

Emergency vehicles

When an emergency vehicle approaches with its siren on you must yield the right of way as quickly as possible. As soon as you see or hear the approaching emergency vehicle you must pull to the right and stop your vehicle.

You should position your vehicle as if parking, next to the curb, if there is one, or as far to the right as is safe if there isn't a curb, but don't block an intersection. If you have not entered a roundabout, pull over and allow emergency vehicles to pass. If you have entered a roundabout, continue to your exit, then pull over and allow emergency vehicles to pass. Remain in that position until the emergency vehicle is well past you.

Don't "zoom out" right after the emergency vehicle has passed. There will be other vehicles in the road, those previously passed by the emergency vehicle, and you'll have to pay attention and be careful to merge with these vehicles.

Since 2001, Wisconsin requires motorists to shift lanes, where possible, to give stopped emergency vehicles or tow trucks a safe zone in which to work.

Under this law, when approaching an authorized emergency vehicle or tow truck stopped within 12 feet of the pavement and which has its emergency lights operating, you should shift lanes, if possible, leaving the lane next to the emergency vehicle open. If shifting lanes is unsafe, motorists are required to slow until they are past the emergency vehicle.

Livestock

In Wisconsin, motorists must give way to livestock. While the person in charge of the animals has the responsibility to "use reasonable care and diligence" to keep the road open, the livestock does have the right of way while crossing a road and you must stop.

It's also the law that if someone is riding or leading a frightened animal and gives you a signal of distress, you must stop until the animal is under control.

These restrictions probably come from an earlier time when horses and other livestock were more prevalent and automobiles were less so. But you may still encounter these situations today. And it is still the law.

Questions about the content of this page:
Sandra Huxtable, sandra.huxtable@dot.wi.gov
Last modified: August 11, 2009

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