What should you do when you arrive at a four-way stop? Here we break down all the rules of what can be a tricky encounter for many drivers. 

What is a Four-Way Stop? 

This is an intersection that requires all vehicles to come to a stop before proceeding. It’s typically marked with a stop sign for each approach, rather than a traffic light. It’s also known as an all-way stop. 

One of the reasons this road situation can be confusing and frustrating is that, even though there are rules governing right of way, it can seem like many drivers either don’t know what the rules are or aggressively disregard them. At the same time, other drivers can approach timidly, “losing” their turn, impacting drivers around them. 

Even though the “how to” of approaching this kind of intersection is one of the first things you learn in driving school, it can be easy to forget who goes when. It can be especially tricky when it’s a relatively high traffic area, with a lot of drivers entering and exiting the intersection from all directions. 

The Four Rules

Rule #1: First to arrive, first to drive

If you arrive at the intersection first, come to a complete stop, then proceed. If another vehicle arrives before you, then they have the right of way. 

Rule #2: Right of way goes to the right

If two vehicles arrive at the same time and stop at the same time, it’s the car on the right that has the right of way. This is also the rule to follow if there’s some confusion about who got there first. 

Rule #3: Straight doesn’t have to wait

If you and another vehicle arrive at the intersection at the same time and you’re across from each other (rather than one to the right and one to the left), pay attention to the traveling direction of the other car. If they are going straight and you are also proceeding straight, you can both travel forward because you won’t cross each other’s path. If the other vehicle is turning, and you are going straight (or vice versa), then it’s the car going straight that has the right of way.

This rule shows one reason that using your turn signals is so important. Always proceed with caution, especially when the other driver is not using a turn signal. 

Rule #4: Left turn yields to right

If two cars arrive directly across from each other at the same time, and both are making turns, then the car turning left yields to the one turning right. This makes sense, because the car turning right is closer to the road. 

Four More Tips for Four-Way Stops

  • Communicate: If turning, use your turn signal to indicate your intention to other drivers. If there’s some doubt about who arrived first, wave people on to let them know you’re yielding to them. 
  • Proceed with caution: Occasionally, four cars might arrive at the intersection at the exact same time. When this happens, there isn’t a rule about who goes first. Wait for the most assertive driver to make the  first move, then proceed using the rules above. 
  • Don’t be aggressive: Take your turn when it’s time and be patient. 
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt: If another driver doesn’t follow the above rules at a four-way stop, assume it was unintentional and just move on with your day. 

Time to refresh your knowledge about this and other tricky driving situations? Take a look at the courses we offer at Stop and Go Driving School. Our patient instructors and comprehensive curriculum will teach you everything you need to know to increase your driving confidence and safety.