Mastering two-way and four-way stops: What new drivers need to know

If you see a stop sign as you approach the intersection, it always means you need to come to a complete stop. What you do after the first full stop varies at different types of intersections.

Safety tip: Stop twice at a two-way stop

Two-way stops are commonly used at intersections in small streets and residential areas. A two-way stop means you have a stop sign and so does the person across from you. The cars coming from left and right have the right of way.

At SenSen Driving School, we always recommend our students to stop twice at two-way stop intersections. Your first stop is to obey the law. ICBC requires that you stop behind the white line whenever there’s a stop sign. This first stop is also to let pedestrians, if there are any, go through. (Just a note: Stopping behind the line smoothly takes practice if you’re a new driver—it’s something your driving instructor can help you perfect over time.)

From ICBC’s Understanding Intersections book. 

The second stop is to look out for cars. It is often hard to see cars coming from left and right on your first stop; in most cases, there will be bushes, trees, fences or parked vehicles obstructing your view. This is why we strongly encourage our students to stop twice so they can be safer. To do your second stop, roll out to a point where you can see down both streets. You don’t have to stop fully, but we recommend it.

Of the two people who have stop signs, whoever arrives first gets to go first. If both cars arrive at the same time and one person wants to go straight, but the other wants to turn left, the car going straight has the right of way.

No stop sign? Don’t stop. 

If you approach an intersection and you dont have a stop sign, then you need to carry on. Stopping when there isn’t a stop sign is dangerous because it’s not a behavior other drivers expect. It’s a confusing behavior. That said, you can hover your foot over the brakes, to be safe.

Four-way stops

Four-way stops can sometimes seem complicated for student drivers as you’ll need to really pay attention and determine which car arrived first, which came second, third and fourth.

Here’s the procedure we recommend to our students: First off, come to a full stop behind the white line. The first car that arrives and come to a full stop first should go first. Sounds simple, right? There are scenarios that new drivers might find confusing:

  • If two cars arrive at the stop sign at the same time, the car on the right has the right of way.
  • If you and the car across from you stops at the same time but you are going straight and they are turning left, the person going straight gets to go first.

Is this a two-way stop or a four-way stop? 

Y1242Student drivers often miss or forget or confuse two-ways stops with four-way stops. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is the face that all four way stop signs say “4-way” below it. I know this sounds easy enough, but after teaching as long as I have, I’ve noticed that people miss this more often than you’d expect.

Make sure you pay attention and look further ahead so you can prepare for the intersection. You don’t want to confuse other drivers by stopping twice at four way stops.

We understand that conditions will not always be ideal in the real world. Turns will be missed or skipped. Your driver instructor will work you through those scenarios to help you drive defensively.

Final words of caution: Hesitations at stop signs can get people into car accidents. So stay alert. Drive with confidence. Be assertive. Commit to your decision.

Photo credit: The Tire Zoo (via Flickr) 


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