Why do people have so much trouble with four-way stops?
You say that you don’t? Great. But do you mean that you don’t have trouble at a quiet suburban intersection where there are seldom more than three cars stopped at any time and you politely gesture to the other driver to go first? Or do you mean that you know exactly what to do when you hit a four-way stop at a major downtown intersection during rush hour when there are a more than a dozen cars trying to negotiate left turn lanes, right turn lanes, and two lanes going through the intersection from all directions?
Next, you’re going to tell me that you don’t have such an intersection anywhere in your city. Wrong. You do. Check your state vehicle code. In the event of a power failure to the traffic lights at any intersection, it automatically becomes a four-way stop.
Even the biggest, busiest intersection in your city is sometimes a four-way stop.
This can cause two problems. First, a lot of drivers don’t seem to know that they have to stop if there is neither a green nor red nor yellow light showing. Some drivers slow down and try to negotiate the intersection without ever stopping causing dangerous confusion.
Second, and worse, if a major street intersects with a small side street, they think that they have the right of way and the traffic on the smaller street has a virtual stop sign. Then they don’t even slow down, much less come to a full stop.
So how do you negotiate a four-way stop when you have too many cars to know what order they arrived in? Simple. You don’t have to know all that. The only thing you have to know is which cars arrived before you. When they’ve all gone, it’s your turn.
Drive up to the limit line and stop. As soon as you are stopped, look at all the other cars who are already waiting at the intersection. After they’ve cleared the intersection, it’s your turn. Proceed, but with caution because there’s going to be one or more idiots who didn’t look at you and don’t know that you were at the intersection before them.
There are three kinds of problem drivers at the intersection. The first is most obvious. They proceed before it’s their turn. I just cut them off if I can. They deserve no better.
The other kind is more problematic. That’s the driver who doesn’t proceed when it is his turn. He is confused but polite. Sometimes he looks like he intends to wait until the middle of the night and the entire city is cleared of traffic. In practice, he ends up waiting until every other driver at the intersection has stopped and is staring at him waiting for him to finally take his turn. Then, after half a minute has passed, he gratefully creeps out into the intersection, congratulating himself for living in such a polite city.
In reality, dozens of drivers are cursing him inside their own cars for being a blithering idiot who is using up minutes of their lives that they will never get back.
The worst kind of driver of all, though, is the one who doesn’t stop. When he gets to the intersection, he keeps creeping forward at a turtle’s pace, looking for an opening. The problem with him is that no one else knows when he thinks that he arrived at the intersection because he didn’t inform them by stopping. Don’t be one of those morons. When you get to the limit line, come to a full stop. That is how you declare your place in the sequence.
In my experience, having driven in most of the states of the Union and all but one of the provinces of Canada, there are considerable differences in the ability of drivers to negotiate four-way stops. Southern Californians seem to be the best at it, blithely and smoothly stopping and going, barely interrupting the flow of traffic.
And the worst? I can think of several places that can compete for that dishonor.