Not every intersection has a traffic light to tell motorists when it’s their turn. When there are four stop signs controlling the flow of traffic, it’s easy for someone to make a mistake—or willfully disregard the rules and drive out of turn. If you were injured at a four-way intersection, determining who is at fault is an important first step to making sure the at-fault party is held accountable.
Knowing who has right of way at a busy four-way stop can help your car accident lawyer establish fault after a vehicle collision.
What Is Right of Way?
Right of way (you may also see it written as “right-of-way”) is the right to proceed first on the roadway. Yielding right of way is allowing another vehicle to move before your own.
If you imagine pulling out from your driveway onto a main road, you know that it’s the right thing to do to allow other cars already using the road to pass by before you move. That’s an example of yielding to the right of way of someone else. Similarly, when you use an on-ramp to merge into traffic on a highway, you wait until the way is clear to merge, so that you don’t cut another driver off. You yield the right of way to cars already traveling the roadway you want to use.
Right of way is often a difficult concept for a new or teen driver to grasp. Drivers who are more experienced have an ability to “feel” right of way. They sometimes abide by unspoken rules that novice drivers haven’t had the time to learn and internalize. But even the most practiced drivers can get tripped up when an intersection is chaotic and other drivers don’t treat right of way rules with respect.
Right of way can become a confusing task for any motorist negotiating a four-way stop intersection.
What Is the Order at a Four-Way Stop?
A four-way stop is an intersection where all four cross-streets have stop signs. These types of intersections are usually a bit more difficult to navigate than ones controlled by traffic lights. Each driver has the responsibility to stop fully at the stop sign, give right of way to the appropriate vehicle, check for pedestrians and bicyclists, and proceed safely when it’s their turn.
Not every driver knows or follows the correct order at a four-way stop. The general rule of thumb is that the first vehicle to arrive (and stop completely) has the right of way to go first. Each car proceeds in turn in the order in which they arrive.
But it can get messy when things aren’t so clear-cut at a busy four-way stop. For example, two cars may arrive at the same time. One car may be turning left while the other is turning right. A pedestrian crossing the crosswalk may disrupt the flow of right of way. An impatient motorist may attempt to rush through the intersection before another driver has a chance to go.
Because of situations like these, states like Kentucky have laws to tell drivers how to proceed properly. And there’s a second rule of thumb for navigating four-way stops—always be the “nice” driver. We’ll talk more about that later on. First let’s look at the law in Kentucky for yielding right of way at a four-stop intersection.
Who Has Right of Way at an Intersection in Kentucky?
Most states’ transportation bureaus publish materials to educate drivers about the safest ways to drive through intersections. Here’s what the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety (KOHS) has to say about right of way at an intersection:
- At four-way, three-way, or two-way stop intersections, the car that reaches and stops at the intersection first has the right of way.
- When two cars arrive at the same time, the car on the right has the right of way.
- Any car turning left must yield right of way to cars going straight or turning right.
- Motorists must yield the right of way to any vehicle that has already entered the intersection (or traffic circle).
- If the intersection involves a minor road joining a main one, right of way should be given to vehicles traveling the main road.
These Kentucky right of way laws concern vehicles traveling through intersections under normal conditions. Two special circumstances Kentucky drivers need to know how to handle are:
- When a pedestrian is present
- When a funeral procession is present
Yielding Right of Way to Pedestrians
Pedestrian safety depends on the decisions of motorists. Anyone behind the wheel of a vehicle must remember that they are in control of a machine that can take a person’s life in the blink of an eye. The KOHS warns motorists that the right of way must be given to pedestrians when:
- There is no traffic light, and the pedestrian is crossing at a marked or unmarked crosswalk
- The pedestrian is crossing at a traffic light, and you are making a turn
- Your action could in any way threaten the pedestrian’s safety
As the last rule implies, you should always give the right of way to a pedestrian who has already begun to cross the street. It’s safe to say that in nearly every situation, your responsibility as a driver is to allow and wait for a person on foot to safely cross the road before you move.
When maneuvering through a four-way stop, your right of way should be given to a pedestrian before you take your turn. Busy four-way intersections can be extremely hazardous for those on foot. Take extra precaution under the following conditions:
- In downtown city areas where walking and biking are common
- In residential neighborhoods where children play
- During the summer when children are not in school
- Near schools, especially during the morning and afternoon when school hours begin and end
- On warm days when more people travel on foot
- In the dark when pedestrians are more difficult to see
- In rain, fog, or other adverse weather conditions that affect visibility
- Near bars, college campuses, and other areas where intoxicated individuals may walk into the street
Yielding Right of Way to Funeral Processions
The Kentucky Department of Transportation has specific laws regarding funeral processions at intersections. A procession led by a vehicle with flashing blue, yellow, or red lights always has the right of way at a four-way stop, no matter what other rules may normally apply. You must yield the right of way to a funeral procession to comply with state law. This includes NOT:
- Cutting between vehicles in the procession
- Flashing your headlights to signal you want to go first
- Rolling through a stop sign to hurry ahead of a procession
- Using any other actions to indicate you want the right of way
Kentucky motorists found guilty of violating these laws may face a $250 fine or 90 days in jail.
How To Be the Safest Driver at a Busy Four-Way Stop
When it comes to right-of-way rules, it’s always better to err on the side of safety. Remember this important tip: Right of way is not something you take; it’s something you give. Graciousness and patience can go a long way in preventing intersection accidents. Even if you have the legal right of way, don’t put yourself and others in danger by trying to take it from another driver who isn’t willing to wait for you. Allow another driver to go first, even if you know it’s your turn.
Unfortunately, not every driver lives by this golden rule of right of way behavior. Motorists who are speeding, aggressive, inattentive, distracted, intoxicated, or just in a hurry can cause serious accidents at four-way stops. If you were injured by another driver’s negligence at an intersection, our law firm may be able to help you recover compensation. Schedule a free consultation at the Law Office of Todd W. Burris to learn more about your legal options after an injury.