Driving Instruction

Who has the Right of Way at a 4 Way Stop in Virginia?

June 29, 2021

Who has the Right of Way at a 4 Way Stop in Virginia?

Yesterday I was driving with a beginning student and we encountered an unusual intersection. We were on the main drag but there was a street coming in from the right. Typically, a situation like that would have a stop sign for the side street, but in this case, we had a stop sign.

We came to a full stop and waited while another car approached the intersection from the side street.  We thought we had to yield, since we had the stop sign, right? Wrong! The side street had a stop sign too, at just the right angle to be invisible to us! We waited for them, and they waited for us, and I shouted (not really) “GO! GO! GO! IT’S OUR RIGHT OF WAY!” to my student, who was afraid to proceed until the other car went. It was bad. That gave me the idea to go over who has the right of way at a 4 way stop.

There are two rules.

1. The first is common sense  -- “First Come First Served.” Cars that arrive at the intersection first go first. If everyone follows that basic rule, then the intersection works like clockwork. The problem comes when someone forgets and sits at their stop sign wondering who has right of way while other vehicles arrive at the intersection.

2. Then you need the second rule -- the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right.  So if you are sitting at a 4 way stop sign with other cars present, look to your right. If no one is there - you have right of way. If a car is there, then you must wait for it to go, and then you go. Pretty simple. Easy Peasy.

Unfortunately, a fair number of motorists can’t remember those two rules, or never really learned them. They may have no idea who has right of way when there are 4 stop signs. They may go (or pause) erratically, or attempt to communicate by waving. That is when accidents happen. Usually, you will be held liable for the accident if you hit the other car, or if a witness is present who testifies that the other car ran the stop sign completely.

A question often arises about what the rule is if two cars arrive at the intersection at the same time. If that happens, the driver on the left must yield.  If no one is on the left (the cars are facing each other) then they can go simultaneously. If one of them is turning left, of course, he must yield to the oncoming car, but if both of them are turning, they can go simultaneously.

The best advice I have for you is to know the two rules for 4 way stop signs and apply them confidently. Most accidents happen when people are hesitating.