Who Has the Right of Way at a Four-Way Stop?

December 12, 2023

Almost every driver has had this experience: You arrive at a four-way stop at the same time another car arrives at the stop from a different direction, and a moment of confusion ensues for each driver as they ask themselves, “Who has the right of way at a four-way stop?” The correct answer is: Drivers should yield to the car on the right.

What if the other car is directly across from you? There’s a rule for that, too, and it’s discussed in most driver’s education courses. But, over time, drivers may forget the principles they learned as new drivers. An injury lawyer can help. Following is a “refresher course” on right-of-way rules.

First to Arrive, First to Go

One of the basic right-of-way rules you must know deals with when the vehicles arrive at the intersection. Under Pennsylvania traffic laws, the first vehicle to arrive and stop is the vehicle with the right of way.

Obviously, determining who got there first may sometimes be difficult, such as when two vehicles appear to arrive simultaneously. Most of the time, it is simple to determine who arrived first if they do indeed arrive at different times. However, there are times when two or more vehicles get to the intersection at virtually the same time.

Simultaneous Arrivals Defer to the Right

When drivers arrive at an intersection at the same time, the “first to arrive, first to go” rule doesn’t apply. The applicable rule in this situation requires drivers to defer to the driver to their right. However, this rule can only control situations that involve two vehicles that are on different streets or next to each other. Two drivers who are across from one another cannot defer to the driver to the right because they are both equally to the right of each other.

Simultaneous Head-to-Head Stop

If two vehicles arrive at an intersection simultaneously and are head-to-head on the same road, both may proceed when safe to do so. However, whichever vehicle decides to make a left turn across oncoming traffic must yield the right of way to oncoming traffic. This left-turn driver must also yield the right of way if the other car decides to turn right.

Left-Turn Accidents Related to Drivers Who Don’t Understand Right of Way

About 53 percent of intersection crashes involve left-turning drivers, and that statistic is one reason UPS has a policy prohibiting its drivers from turning left unless there’s no alternative.

Turning left is one of the riskiest maneuvers a driver makes – unless there’s a dedicated traffic signal giving left-turning drivers the right of way, drivers must enter an intersection and wait for an opening before turning left. When already in the intersection, the left-turning driver has the right of way when the traffic signal turns yellow. But oncoming drivers may try to race through the yellow light, so left-turning drivers should proceed with caution. (Also, left-turning drivers should not enter the intersection on a yellow signal).

Right of Way Rules for Pedestrians and Cyclists

Bicycles are considered vehicles, so they must generally follow the rules that apply to drivers. Cyclists may ride on the right road shoulder or in the right-most travel lane of a road, and they may leave the right lane when making a left turn, overtaking another vehicle, or avoiding an object.

Motorists must allow four feet when passing a bicyclist (the bicyclist is not required to move farther to the right).

Many accidents that injure pedestrians and cyclists occur at intersections when drivers turning right on red are looking to the left and fail to make sure the intersection is clear before executing their turn. Drivers should always be alert to pedestrians and cyclists at intersections.

Another thing to keep in mind with pedestrians is that a driver’s right of way is subject to the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. In other words, pedestrian and bicycle safety trump right-of-way laws.

For example, if a motorist has the right of way, yet a pedestrian walks into the street in front of their vehicle, that motorist must yield to the pedestrian.

Further Considerations Regarding Right-of-Way Rules

The right-of-way rules are meant to prevent accidents by having drivers communicate with one another, which means drivers must constantly be receiving and sending out signals of their next moves. This is why signaling is so important.

A turn signal is an alert or warning that a car is about to make a turn. Failure to activate a turn signal can lead to accidents because it implies to other drivers that you will be going straight. So when you turn without a signal, it catches drivers off guard. It also means you can be held liable for damages for failure to signal, even though you had the right of way.

Safety Is the Ultimate Goal

He who has the right of way gets there first. However, getting there first is not worth much if an accident happens. Always remember that the goal of traffic rules and regulations is to keep you and others safe.

By learning the rules, staying alert at all times, and looking for communications from other drivers, you can safely traverse the many roadways and intersections of the Keystone State.

We Can Help with Injuries in Accidents Caused by Right of Way Violations

A driver who violates right-of-way rules and causes a car crash may be liable for any injuries that occur. For almost 40 years, the personal injury attorneys at Wapner Newman have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling (215) 569-0900 or filling out a free case evaluation form.