by Cedric Hughes, Barrister & Solicitor with regular weekly contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.B.   

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The Right-Of-Way At a Four-Way Stop

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A lot of suburban intersections have in recent years been re-configured from uncontrolled courtesy intersections to four way stops governed by stop signs. The factors determining this arrangement seem to be frequency of collisions at the intersection, together with a traffic flow that does not require the more expensive option of traffic lights.

The controlling device is the big red octagonal stop sign, one for each of the four directions. A driver must always come to a complete stop at a stop sign controlled intersection. “Rolling stops” are not sufficient, and can result in a ticket.
Where to stop is the next issue. Section 186 of the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act states that a driver must stop as “at the marked stop line before…the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.” Where no such markings exist, a driver must stop at the point nearest the intersecting highway from which the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting highway. Like just about everything else in the Motor Vehicle Act, this is a common sense requirement: A driver needs to be able to clearly see both oncoming and intersecting traffic at all intersections, but especially where safe traffic flow depends on all drivers having to assess and decide when it’s safe to proceed.
The bigger and busier the intersection the more likely it will be a four-way stop rather than a two-way stop intersection, so typically at a four way stop a driver is confronted by vehicles proceeding from three other directions. To meet this challenge, there are three basic rules governing who has the right-of-way. Timing is everything: the first vehicle to come to a complete stop at the intersection has the right-of-way. If two vehicles arrive at the same time and are facing each other, the left-turning vehicle must yield to the oncoming vehicle. If two vehicles arrive at the same time and are perpendicular to each other, the vehicle on the right has the right-of way. A driver is “the driver on the right with the right-of-way” if that driver has no other driver to the right side.
At busy four way intersections adherence to these rules can set up a steady pattern with each new arrival taking their cue from the last driver to enter the intersection. Failing to follow the required order of precedence can set up confusion and frustration on the part of the drivers coming from the three other directions. This can produce a lot of unpleasantness, and is also the cause of crashes. A particular threat is the driver in a hurry who does not take into account the possibility that the oncoming driver may be about to execute a left turn.
Even if all drivers attempting to pass through the intersection at a given moment, are well intentioned, the driving skills and judgment of the drivers will certainly vary. Always assume the other driver is going to make a mistake. If need be, let the confused or aggressive drivers go first. The delay in applying a little patience will probably be only a few seconds. Those may be life saving seconds. Please drive safely.



This has to be one of the dumbest means of traffic control invented which is probably why they are only found in the U.S. & Canada. I've never seen them in any other country I have driven in & I have driven in lots. Not only are 4 way stops a hazard for drivers they are also a hazard for pedestrians especially during bad weather or night driving. I have seen 4 way stops implemented on multiple lane roads as well - an accident waiting to happen. Get rid of this most inefficient, dangerous system altogether & replace them with small roundabouts.


Except that people dont know how to drive in roundabouts either.


I'm sure that even Americans and Canadians could learn how to use a roundabout. I spent 5 months in Ireland this past year. At first the roundabouts were a bit scary but with a bit of experience they were no problem at all.

I agree that roundabouts are much better than four way stops. More efficient and much safer.

By the way ... I am a Canadian.



Cedric Hughes

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