Four Way Stop Intersection Guide – 17 Tips To Improve Skill

The four way stop is a type of intersection where all drivers stop, and then take turns going. These intersections aren’t found worldwide. They’re mostly found in North America in Canada and the U.S.

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4 Way Stop On Fast Forward


If you are confused by them, you’re not the only one; but don’t worry. We will go through how this intersection is supposed to work, and some tips and tricks for dealing with them. In a nutshell:

  • Whoever stops first, should go first
  • Whoever stops second, goes second
  • If you stop at the same time, yield to the right
  • And, if you stop at the same time, left turning traffic should yield to straight-through and right-turning traffic
5 way stop

Contents

1. 4 Way Stops, 3 Way Stops, 5 Way Stops, All Way Stop Intersections

These all work the same

four way stop

You may encounter a four way stop, 3 way stop, 5 way stop, or an “all-way” stop. These all work exactly the same; it’s just that there may or may not be exactly 4 directions. For any of these intersections, all drivers must stop and then take turns.

  • The four way stop (and the other intersections like 3 way, 5 way, all way stops) commonly have a tab on the bottom of the sign. This is so you can easily identify the intersection as a 4 way stop, rather than a ‘normal’ stop sign such as a 2 way stop.
  • You aren’t normally expected to count other drivers’ stop signs while driving, but sometimes this is necessary. This tab makes life easier to understand.
4 way stop tab
  • Two-way stops may or may not also have a tab, but they usually don’t. 2 way stops are different in that 2 directions of travel must stop and yield to the 2 other directions of travel, who do not stop.
  • Look for the backs of signs for the other traffic to be certain what type of intersection you are at before assuming.

2. Who Goes First At a Four Way Stop?

  • Whichever driver stops first, should go first
  • If you stop second, you should go second
  • If you stop third, go third
  • If you stop fourth, then go fourth
  • If you stop at the same time, yield to the right
  • If you stop at the same time, left turns yield to straight through and right turning traffic

What I basically do when coming up to a four way stop, is I just come to a complete stop and I take a look at which other vehicle(s) stopped before mine. If they stopped before me, they should go before me, and then I should take my turn.

3. Why Do We Yield To The Right (And Not The Left?)

yield to the right at four way stop

There’s a reason why we yield to the right and not the left. Yielding to the right clears the intersection faster; the most efficient way to keep everyone moving through.

This is because we drive on the right half of the road. When the car on the right goes first, it travels only half way across the road before it is out of your way.

 why do we yield to the right
19 Intersection Examples 4 Way Stops in Burnaby Canada

If the car on the left moves first, it will have to travel across the entire intersection before being out of the way of the other vehicle. The other vehicle will need to remain completely stopped for longer.

why not yield to the left

And since the point of driving is to like, get somewhere, this is a good system that keeps things moving in an efficient kind of way.

4. Four Way Stop – If You’re On The Left

If you are situated on the left, start moving when the first car is out of your way (hesitate only if the car is turning left). You do not have to watch the driver disappear over the horizon before you start moving.

Be assertive so that cars arriving after you will not be confused. This means taking your foot off the brake and letting your car begin to roll when you know it is your turn.

Other drivers will then know you are getting ready to go. If you hesitate, other drivers may think you’re yielding to them, and your four-way stop can quickly turn into a confusing thing.

5. Four Way Stop If You Stop At The Same Time

If you stop at the same time as another car, left-turning drivers should yield to drivers going straight.

left turn yield four way stop

Also, left-turning drivers should yield to right-turning drivers. This allows the intersection to clear as quickly as possible. These two cars can actually turn almost at the exact same time and not have a collision, just because the right turn is so much smaller than the left.

Just think of it this way: If you stop at the same time, yield to whoever is on the right, and those who are turning right.

left turn yield to right turn four way stop

You may be able to go at the same time if you are both going straight and facing each other

both going straight 4 way stop

Or if you are both turning left and facing each other.

left turn four way stop

This is only safe as long as you know 100% that the other driver is going to follow through with what their signal – or lack of a signal – indicates. Use caution and make sure the next move is obvious. Hesitate if you aren’t sure.

There have been collisions at four way stops because someone simply thought someone else was going to turn (or go straight, whatever) and they did something different.

So it’s really important to make sure the other vehicles are actually going where you think they are. This can be tricky sometimes. If you’re ever not sure, just wait until it’s obviously safe and then take your turn.

If you are both turning right, or if all vehicles are turning right, normally you could go at the same time.

This is because there’s no potential conflict over use of the same chunk of pavement.

right turn four way stop

This only works safely if the road isn’t too narrow, and there is a shared certainty of expected movement.

6. Pedestrians At The Four Way Stop

Pedestrians can confuse drivers in the four-way stop just as they can confuse the two-way stop. All drivers must yield to pedestrians first.

If it is not your turn to go, and other vehicles are being stopped by pedestrians crossing, you could take the right of way when it is obviously safe to do so. Why not?

If you’re not sure or don’t feel comfortable going, then simply yield (remain completely stopped) and the other driver will take a hint.

pedestrians at four way stop

7. If 4 Cars Stop At The Same Time At The Four Way Stop

If four cars arrive at the same time… This doesn’t happen very often. Show courtesy and look at the intended direction of each vehicle’s turn.

If all drivers want to go straight, the problem is greater than if they all want to turn right.

Keep in mind, that you control the speed of your vehicle. If you see three other cars approaching at almost the same time, you could approach the intersection slower than the others in order to avoid too much confusion.

I personally do this sometimes just to make my life easier. I slow down more slowly than the other cars, arrive after them, and go 4th. It’s just easier on my brain.

8. Make Eye Contact At Four Way Stops

Whenever Possible

Always establish eye contact with other drivers at a four-way stop whenever this is available. When you have eye contact, check the other roads for a driver that might be about to run through the intersection without noticing the stop sign.

Drivers don’t – on purpose – hit things they can see, but might hit you if they don’t see the stop sign. This means the most dangerous area at a four way stop is usually the direction where you don’t, – haven’t, or cant’ – see a car; not from drivers who already see you and have stopped.

Someone might drive through the intersection at any given rate of speed if they don’t see the stop sign or intersection. Don’t be anxious, but do check and be prepared to act.

Realize that there are other ways to avoid collisions besides slowing down or slamming on your brakes.

In certain instances, you could avoid collisions by speeding up to get out of the way. I have done this in my life.

eye contact at four way stop
danger at four way stop

9. Avoid Confusing Other Drivers With ‘Rolling Stops’

As always, make a very obvious and clear stop. Avoid rolling up to the stop sign so gingerly that the other drivers aren’t sure when exactly you stopped.

I think this is mostly why people find these intersections confusing; a lot of drivers don’t actually stop. So how would anyone in their right mind be able to tell who should go first, if no one actually stopped? Questions for the universe…

Some drivers just slow down a lot, and try to figure out who should go first.

Don’t give yourself whiplash, but do make your “I stopped” obvious.

10. Where Are The Other Drivers Intending To Go At The Four Way Stop?

Obviously you need to pay attention to the direction the drivers say they want to go. If all 4 cars want to go straight, that is a much larger problem than if they all want to turn right, right?

11. Use Caution & Consider Your Movements

One instance where I would recommend being very cautious with this is when you’re about to turn left.

Say the 2 vehicles are approaching each other, you’ve stopped, but you’re not sure the other vehicle is actually going to stop (i.e. the speed of the vehicle is still quite high).

Sometimes drivers do not see the stop sign. There are some pretty sketchy intersections where nature, a large truck, or something else is blocking the visibility. This would be potentially very dangerous, since you’re planning to cross the path of the other car.

And it’s not always going to be obvious that a driver facing you might have visibility issues with their stop sign; for we can only see what we can see.

Diagram of a 4-way Stop Intersection in Canada with one car Turning Left

12. Take Your Time At The Four Way Stop

In this case, I usually hesitate until I’m 100% sure the driver is going to stop, and then proceed. If he’s not slowing down at all, then flash your high beams or honk so that others do not get injured.

Some stop signs are very difficult to see, like this 4-way stop intersection in beautiful Burnaby, Canada for example

By the way, it’s illegal to park a vehicle so that it is blocking the view of the stop sign like this, but this seems to happen anyway, and we have to deal with it and stay safe as drivers.

13. Can You “See” The Hidden Stop Sign?

How can you tell that this intersection is a four way stop? How easy would it be to “not see” this and drive through without stopping?

Intersection in Canada with Camper Van blocking view of a Stop Sign

14. Always Scan Intersections Before Proceeding

Remember to also scan the intersection Left and Right before proceeding. Just because there’s a stop sign, doesn’t mean people are going to stop.

Stop signs can’t stop cars.

Don’t be paranoid, but do be cautious and observant.

15. Question: What Should I Do If I Encounter a Cyclist at a Four Way Stop?

If you encounter a cyclist at a four way stop, normally you should treat them as a car, just like you would treat any other car at a 4-way stop. Cyclists are required to follow the road rules just as cars do. In other words, they should stop completely and then take their turn.

This means they could get a speeding ticket, and are required to stop at stop signs, red lights, etc.

If you encounter a cyclist at a crosswalk, then treat him/her more like a pedestrian.

Sometimes, a cyclist is part car and part pedestrian, even though this sounds confusing.

 

16. Are 4 Way Stop Clockwise?

The 4 way stop intersection generally has a tendency to move in a clockwise direction simply because we generally yield to the right. This doesn’t mean it will always go that way. And remember that it isn’t actually a clock!

4 way stop diagram

17. Sometimes There Is a 5-Way Stop

The 5 way stop works exactly like the 4-way stop (and the 3 way stop, and the All-Way stop)

That means:

  • Whoever stops first, should go first.

If you stop at the same time:

  • Yield to the vehicle on your right
  • Left turns yield to right turns
  • Left turns yield to straight thru traffic

When unsure, use courtesy.

Now, hopefully you’re feeling much better about the magic and fun of mastering the 4-Way-Stop Intersection in Canada and the U.S.

Traffic Lights Out?

If you’re driving and find an intersection that has traffic lights that are not working, treat as a 4-way stop intersection. Be extra careful, of course.

Conclusion

If you’re new to Canada or the U.S., or new to driving, you may be encountering a four way stop for the first time. How exciting! Don’t worry because they aren’t that bad. In fact, they seem to be easier, quicker, and dare I say more fun compared to 2 way stops.

2 way stops can be difficult and time consuming because you don’t just get your turn like in the 4 way stop. Often, there are visibility issues and other issues making your life difficult.

Just be careful at four way stops because sometimes, a car is going straight with its turn signal on. Or, it’s turning without a signal.

You can’t just trust people’s turn signals, even though that would be nice, and even though the point of a signal is to tell other people what you plan to do. If you’re ever not sure if it’s safe to go at the same time as another car, simply wait. It’s what a defensive driver does.

Check out the four way stop video on this page and let me know in the comments what your biggest concern is about the four way stop intersection. Be sure to check out the articles on turning left, turning right at a traffic light and turning right on a red light.

Hopefully you’ll be a four way stop Pro in no time.

By Carmen

Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada.

22 comments

  1. There is something that I don’t see written explicitly, but was taught to me specifically in driver education. I’m looking for confirmation.
    Typically, right-of-way at a four-way stop is assigned to whoever arrives first, and follows as you have explained above. When an intersection becomes busy, right-of-way alternates in alternate directions, so north-south traffic clears the intersection (one in each direction), and then east-west traffic clears the intersection.
    What I was taught, is that at any time, if two vehicles opposite one another are at complete rest at the same time (regardless of who arrived first), the car travelling straight has right-of-way over a car turning across that driver’s lane.
    For example, let’s say the north-south vehicles are taking their turn through the intersection, and both pass straight through. Following that, it is the turn of the east-west drivers. Now, the east driver had arrived first, and is waiting to make a left turn. the west driver arrived a few seconds afterward, but is travelling straight. However, because both were at rest at the same time waiting for north-south traffic to clear, they then proceed as though they both arrived together: the turning vehicle gives right-of-way to the vehicle travelling straight.
    We went through this several times during my instruction, and it makes total sense. When two vehicles opposite one another are both at complete rest, regardless of who arrived first, these vehicles proceed with the right-of-way stating that through-drivers have right-of-way over drivers turning left across their lane.

  2. Can someone change there mind about which way they are turning at a 4 way stop. Before they start the turn and when there is no traffic at any other stops. Or does the you must have your signal on 100 ft before a turn apply. This is a frustrating law that has become a huge question in my town.

  3. There is an intersection in my neighbourhood that causes a lot of confusion. It is a 4 way stop (4 way sign under stop sign) but it has 2 pull out lanes for right turns (each with another stop sign but no 4 way sign under them) as well as 2 left turn lanes.
    I would appreciate some clarification on this since I have young drivers that I would like to educate on the proper use of this intersection.
    If I am approaching the intersection and using one of the right turn lanes do I have to wait until the entire intersection is cleared before I get right of way (I could be here all day since it’s a busy one) or do I proceed with right of way in order of cars approaching the intersection as an ALL WAY stop situation?
    The lanes are as follows from the north side of the intersection there is 1 lane to go south and 1 lane going north (2 lanes only from the north), from the south there is a right turn lane (with separate stop sign) and a lane to go north and a left (west) turn lane (3 lanes from the south), from the east there is one lane to go west (straight) and a left south turn lane as well as a lane going east (3 lanes from the east) from the west there is a right turn separate lane (with stop sign) and a lane to go east as well as a lane going west (3 lanes).
    In total there are 11 lanes at this intersection.
    Can you help me with this?

      1. Carmen the intersection is in West Vancouver just after you get off the Caulfeild Exit 4. After you turn left from HWY 1 exit you will hit this 4 way stop.
        The street names are a bit confusing because there are several at this intersection.
        To the north is Northwood Dr (lots of drivers coming from this direction barely even stop), to the south is Headland Dr, to the west is Westport Rd and the road to the east where the highway exits onto is Woodgreen Dr.
        I can send you a google map screen shot if that would help or you could google map it yourself and see what I mean by how confusing it is.

        1. I’m checking it out.. I used to teach driving lessons on the North Shore for many years so I am sure I know it. I’m checking the map!

        2. Oh yes this one is fun, isn’t it. I’m waiting for a new dashboard camera in the mail as mine broke; As soon as I get that I will go there and make a video as I always need new stuff for my blog anyway (thanks for the great example of challenging intersection). I hope that will help.

          In the meantime -my hopefully not-too-convoluted answer- would be that the drivers facing the regular or ‘non-4-way-stop’ sign, should treat this just like they would any other stop sign, since that is exactly what it is!! A regular ole stop sign… So we stop completely, yield to any pedestrians, and then if necessary, inch the vehicle forward slowly if visibility is blocked (due to other vehicles stopping for the 4-way stop sign or moving through the intersection in this case…) and/or if not necessary to inch forward, simply proceed when safe.

          You don’t really get a ‘turn’ to go, (thank goodness too because I am not sure how to teach 11-way stop procedures lol) so your job is to figure out who is going where, and when you can safely go. Simple example: If there are 3 other cars at the intersection and they are all turning right, then there’s no conflict; you can all merrily proceed at the same time if you know for sure the other cars are actually going to turn. I know that doesn’t happen too often but you get what I mean. When you’re turning right you need to know who you need to worry about – other vehicles going straight or turning left, not vehicles turning to their right. If possible, while you are approaching, try to get a general idea of which order the other cars might be proceeding in.

          The other thing to make sure new drivers are aware of is not to trust the turn signals of the other vehicles. If it has a turn signal flashing, this doesn’t mean the car will actually turn. Or sometimes it has no signal and it turns. so don’t move before you are sure it is 110% safe. But by all means if you stop and you see a safe gap, then go for it. Otherwise you are right, you might be there all day.. and we all know you got in your car to like.. go places. lol :) At the very least, You should be able to go at the same time as the car relatively beside you at the 4-way stop, if there is one there going straight ahead, shouldn’t you? At that moment it would be almost impossible to have a conflict/collision with any other vehicle at the intersection. It kind of acts as a shield for you. That might not work if it went left, however, as opposing left turns might move simultaneously.

          Hope that all made sense…

          (sorry for the delayed response, by the way) I will make some diagrams up ASAP !! :)

  4. **Need some Help Please**

    I stopped the same time as Truck to the right of me **BUT** ….
    at that very same moment, there was still a car turning left from “Truck Guys” lane

    So I watch this car go by me and the then “Trunk Guy” goes next (Left Turn again) because he thinks he stopped before me, regardless of the car previously in front of him turning.

    So for my question….does his right of way matter if the car from his lane is still completing its turn.

    I hope not, because why should two car from the same lane go back to back because one is slow turning?

    I’m super angry right now. Someone, please let me know if I’m wrong! He had such a douchey face too! ahh just got know… thanks

  5. I have question. I am a cyclist and I was at a 4-way today, I had stopped and was going straight to the other side of the street. There was a car to my left turning right, and a car passing by my right going past me. The car that was turning was at a complete stop and the car going past me was not yet clear of the intersection as I went to cross the road. As soon as I started to cross the car to my left began turning, but the car going past me had still not cleared the intersection. The owner of the turning car began yelling at me and swearing as I went past and did not stop turning and almost hit me. I thought I was clear to go as another car was passing in front of the turning car and he was stopped but should I have waited?

    1. Who stopped first? It sounds like all 3 were trying to move at the same time? I’m not sure exactly what you mean either can you send a diagram?

  6. The age old rule for 4-ways – each direction takes turns counter-clockwise. In a city with constant traffic, say when power is out…. and 2 lanes of thru traffic in each direction, including a left-turn lane. The rule is even more important in this scenario. Otherwise the left hand turn is perilous. The secret being. If north bound straight thru lanes advance thru intersection – most often you will see the southbound straight thru lanes follow in kind. (as if in fact the lights were working), this creates the problem for the north bound turn lane – they are left out and must inch and squeeze thru, with potential advancing traffic. Following the Old standby rule, allows each direction equal turns, one care, each lane, advances. next to move, is to the right, northbound, westbound, southbound, eastbound, northbound, etc. not 2 opposing at same time when turn lanes are present.

  7. Hi

    I have my N driving test tomorrow. I am very confused on how to stop at the middle of intersection of you want to take left and person in front also wants to ale left.

    Especially for the intersection where there are separate roads for left and right. You have to stop in the middle of the intersection before taking left. Do you stop on left side so that you can easily take left. Or do you stay at right during middle of intersection and take left when clear.

    I am finding it difficult to explain the intersection but it can be any intersection when you get on king Edwards highway in point grey area.

    Pls help

    1. Cleared it .. boo yeahhh ..

      just a couple of marks on my assessment sheet for right turns (turn position), other than that a spotless sheet.

      I just used this blog, few youtube videos and a lot of driving around Point Grey area. Thankyou for having this up and maintained.

  8. I wonder how you feel about the 4 way intersection at Maple & York. It is a two-way stop, but the stop sign has a tab (saying two-way). While riding my bike through I noticed the tab and hesitated thinking it was a four-way, but after going and taking a look it was found to say two-way in yellow. Unusual? This seems to invalidate your first sentence, that a tab indicates it is not a two-way intersection.

      1. **Need some Help Please**
        I stopped the same time as Truck to the right of me **BUT** ….
        at that very same moment, there was still a car turning left from “Truck Guys” lane
        So I watch this car go by me and the then “Trunk Guy” goes next (Left Turn again) because he thinks he stopped before me, regardless of the car previously in front of him turning.
        So for my question….does his right of way matter if the car from his lane is still completing its turn.
        I hope not, because why should two car from the same lane go back to back because one is slow turning?
        I’m super angry right now. Someone, please let me know if I’m wrong! He had such a douchey face too! ahh just got know… thanks

        1. Hi. You said yourself you stopped “the same time as Truck to the right of me” So normally if 2 vehicles stop at the same time, we would simply yield to the right. I know what you are saying, but paying attention to slow vehicles exiting is just a distraction really.. I hope that made sense. That’s just my opinion.

          1. Mr. Rightofway stopped at the same time as the the truck… but the truck was one vehicle behind the solid white line on the road (ie one vehicle back in que). Truck driver should not have gone first. People do this all time.

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