Tim Schewe

Who goes first? The age-old four-way stop confusion

When more than one driver stops at the same time the situation becomes a bit more complicated

By Tim Schewe

Who goes first at a four-way stop?

The concept should be simple, first to stop, first to go.

However, when more than one driver stops at the same time the situation becomes a bit more complicated.

Do you know who to give the right of way to?

The law concerning stopping at intersections is found in Section 186 of the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA).

Slowing down and rolling through the intersection without stopping just confuses the situation. Don’t do it!

Our provincial driver’s manual, Learn to Drive Smart, explains four way stops briefly on page 46:

“The first vehicle to arrive at the intersection and come to a complete stop should go first.

“If two vehicles arrive at the same time, the one on the right should go first.

“If two vehicles are facing each other and have arrived at the intersection at about the same time, the one making a left turn should yield to the one going straight through.”

This description does not cover some of the other combinations that could occur at four-way stop intersections.

What happens when two drivers stop at the same time across from one another, one wanting to turn right and the other to turn left?

Section 174 MVA establishes the general case that a left turning driver must yield to approaching traffic that is close enough to be a hazard. The right turn driver goes first.

If both drivers intend to turn left, or both want to turn right, they should be able to go at the same time if there is enough room in the intersection.

This might be a good time to share something that my father taught me when I was learning to drive: the only thing that you can be certain about when you see a flashing signal light is that the bulb is still good.

The chance might be slim, but drivers sometimes signal one thing and do another.

If there is any doubt about who has the right of way, it is better to yield to the other driver, even if you don’t have to.

Pedestrians add another complication. If you have yielded and the other driver cannot go because of pedestrian traffic, be very careful that it is safe for you take the right of way.

Make eye contact with all road users. It’s the things that we don’t see that cause us problems and knowing where others are looking or not looking can help us anticipate what is going to happen.

One final strategy: if you think that you are going to arrive at the same time as other traffic, slow down and arrive second instead.

It costs you only a second or two that you may more than regain as you have eliminated the pause to decide who goes first.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. Visit DriveSmartBC.ca to comment or learn more.

Column