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.
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
1. 4 Way Stops, 3 Way Stops, 5 Way Stops, All Way Stop Intersections
These all work the same
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.
- 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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
You may be able to go at the same time if you are both going straight and facing each other…
Or if you are both turning left and facing each other.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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!
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)
- 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.
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.