Who Has the Right-of-Way?

Even for experienced drivers, intersections are among the most hazardous locations and are the site of many collisions. It may sound simple, but the sooner you size-up an intersection and identify the potential hazards, the more likely you are to avoid a collision.


Here are four things you should do when coming to an intersection:

  • Scan ahead. Scan the entire block for oncoming traffic or other potential problems.
  • Check the traffic light. Is the light green or red? Even with a green light, you should anticipate the light changing as you approach.
  • Take your foot off the accelerator and cover your brake. This allows you to smoothly stop should the light change.
  • Delay acceleration. Count to three before moving forward through the intersection. Doing so allows you plenty of reaction time should there be an overly aggressive driver who runs through the light.


Let’s tackle the easy scenarios first.


Yield Signs

Drivers with a yield sign should slow as they approach the intersection, scanning for pedestrians and other traffic. The driver should stop and yield to all traffic until the intersection is clear. If the intersection is clear, they do not need to stop.


2-Way Stops

Drivers with a stop sign must yield to traffic without the stop until the intersection is clear.


Now comes the more difficult scenario that can make even the most seasoned driver a little nervous. The 4-way stop.


4-Way Stops

There are four main rules for mastering the 4-way stop.

  1. The first vehicle that arrives at a 4-Way Stop always has right of way, no matter where they are located and what direction they are traveling.
  2. When two or three vehicles arrive at a 4-Way Stop at the same time, and are located side-by-side, the vehicle furthest to the right has right of way.
  3. When two vehicles arrive at a 4-Way Stop at the same time, and they are located head-to-head and one of the vehicles intends to turn and the other intends to go straight, the vehicle going straight has right of way. Keep in mind that if both vehicles are going straight or turning in the same direction, they can both proceed at the same time as they will not cross each other’s path.
  4. When two vehicles arrive at a 4-Way stop at the same time, and they are located head-to-head and one of the vehicles intends to turn right and the other intends to turn left, the vehicle turning right has right of way.


When four vehicles arrive at a 4-Way Stop at the same time, none of the above rules apply. Technically, none of the vehicles would have right of way. It is recommended that you wait for the most aggressive driver to make their move and then proceed with caution rather than alternating with the other vehicles in the intersection.


Additional Tips to Keep in Mind

Even if you legally have the right of way, be ready to yield to others who are driving aggressively. Your goal is to make it home in one piece, no need to rush. Remember to continue scanning even at controlled intersections. The purpose of scanning is to identify any potential threats or issues that could impede traffic so that you can change course. Also, while at intersections, be certain to communicate your intentions and always be ready to come to a stop or to change your path.


Consider taking an online refresher driving course to stay current with law changes and best driving practices. Click here to check out our full list of Top Driver safe driving tips.


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