Monday, April 18, 2011

The Anatomy of a Four-Way Stop Sign

Charleston, SC is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Truly.  For six years, we’ve called Charleston home, and now that we know we are moving to WA (collective hooray!), I’ve started feeling sentimental for the beaches and rivers and winding, tree-lined two-lane highways.  I’ll miss the tree frogs and lizards that found a home in our screened-in porch.  I’ll miss the Eastern gray squirrels with their funny little tails and scampery chit-chat.  I’ll miss the weather.  The glorious ten months of 80s and sunshine.
What I will not miss, however, is the traffic.
With multiple waterways and an old city plan comes the headache of limited highways and a virtual maze of side streets and poorly designed routes that lead to hours of sitting in traffic no matter where you’re going.  I’ve heard that WA traffic is similar--that commuting takes time, and the city planning is not great.  I don’t know because I’ve never been there, but I can’t imagine it being worse than Charleston (fingers crossed).
Every time I come home to OK, I become even more aware of these traffic issues because they just don’t exist here.  Oklahoma City, and the surrounding areas are set up on a mile-by-mile cardinal direction grid for the most part.  As long as you memorize the north-south streets and the west-east streets, you can get around pretty easily.  On top of the fact that everything is directionally easy to follow, you can criss-cross OKC easily on the MANY highways, making for easy commuting for long distances.  I love this about my hometown.  
HOWEVER, and that is a big HOWEVER, there is one thing about OKC traffic that drives me insane.  Absolutely bonkers--like you may find me wandering around the streets bald and pantsless with a sign reading “THE END IS NEAR!” soon because I have run out of hair to pull out and have soiled myself.
The four-way stop.  

Four stop signs strategically placed to control the flow of traffic throughout the day and night.  This doesn’t seem like something that would cause problems, but somehow, grasping the concept of stopping at a four-way intersection is beyond the brain capabilities of a large portion of the OKC population.
So, in an effort to make OKC a better place to live, let me offer this advice, actual laws, and generally accepted principles related to the four-way stop.  You can thank me later.  Think of it as a public service announcement for the betterment of our society at large.
I have drawn a diagram of a four-way stop because I think the people who will benefit from this best are the type of people who are better with pictures than words.  I actually made diagrams on the computer, but when I copied and pasted, my computer fratched, and it was just faster for me to take pictures of hand-drawn diagrams than to figure out how to fix it.  That's how dedicated I am to getting this information to the public.
Okay, now that we have a visual representation, let’s start with the general rules of a four-way stop.
  1. Drivers A and C are like partners.  They go at the same time.  Drivers B and D are also partners.
  2. The partners take turns.  A&C proceed first.  B&D proceed next.  They continue to take turns as long as there are cars coming from all four directions.
Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.  This may seem like a simple enough concept, but just as I would say in my classroom as a teacher, “There are no stupid questions!”  (I would be rolling my eyes on the inside at the kid who asked the stupid question, but whatever.)
Okay, here is where it gets tricky.  What if someone doesn’t want to drive in a straight line?  What if Driver A, for instance wants to turn right?
Now, I know this might be confusing for some of you because the arrow is actually pointing left, but you have to remember that Driver A is driving south on this map.  If this concept is too difficult for you to grasp, you should probably stop reading now and get off the freaking road.
So, Driver A wants to turn right, but Driver C is going straight.  THERE IS NO CONFLICT HERE.  Everyone can still move at the same time.  A turns right.  C goes straight.  They have taken their turn, and now B&D can proceed.
But, here’s where it gets really tricky.  What if A wants to turn left?  Across C’s straightaway!  
Here’s a little mantra I’ve come up with to help you remember what to do in this situation if you happen to be Driver A: Not going straight, I have to wait.  Not going straight, I have to wait.  Not going straight, I have to wait.
You let the straightaway driver go first, and then proceed with your left turn.  No one gets hurt.  No one has to honk.  No one needs to wave anyone else through.  No one has to start and stop four times while Drivers B&D yell angrily and flip birds in every direction.
Following this tricky maneuver, Drivers B&D can then proceed in regular order, following the aforementioned rules if in fact one of them has to turn left as well.  One important note: if both partner cars are turning left, we have NO CONFLICT, people!  They can go at the same time.  
One last rule, and this one is graduate level for some people, so pay attention.
Sometimes, Driver A and Driver B arrive at an empty four-way stop at the same time, at which time both drivers start and stop, inching forward and looking at each other with doe-eyed idiocy, motioning back and forth like the guys from the Roxbury skit on SNL--like “You go? Oh, I’ll go! Oh, you?  Okay, me!  Oh, you!  Yeah, you go.  Oh, you want me to go?”  This goes on until someone finally stops being an idiot and proceeds.
This does not have to happen, people.  There is a rule: whoever arrives on the right side goes first.  In this instance, Driver A is to the right of Driver B.  If you don’t know which is your right or left hand, get off the road.
Here’s a little quiz.  Which driver in these scenarios would go first?

Here’s your answer key: B, D, and trick question!  In diagram three, they go at the same time!  If you got any of these questions wrong, get off the road.
Now, here are some general principles or suggestions that aren’t necessarily written into the laws of the land but could be helpful.
  1. Four-way stops were never intended to be the place where you stop to text someone back because you are trying to be a safe driver.  If your text can’t wait, pull over at a gas station.  While you are busy texting at a four-way stop, you are, as Smokey would say “f*ckin' up the rotation.”
  2. If you wave someone through the intersection because you are being polite, you will still be ticketed in the event of an accident.  Because you are an idiot.  A polite idiot, but still an idiot.
  3. The aforementioned traffic laws still apply to you, even if you look like: 
I call this look "Oklahoma Blonde."  It's popular with the moms at my kids' preschool.  This would be the primary offender in most four-way drama.
If this is you, you should also know that four-way intersections are not a prime spot for picking up chicks by screaming out your window at them.
If this is you, I don't need you and your Hummer drifting straight through intersections and crushing me and my children while we're just trying to drive across town for a Jamba Juice.
If you have any questions regarding any of the above information, you should probably ask someone else.  I can’t help you.  Happy driving! 


  1. I am often guilty of not going b/c I assume that the person whose turn it ISN'T is going to go ahead and go no matter what. I am generally correct. I also tend to slow down or stop when I have the right of way and the other person has a stop sign if I am not 100% certain that person is in the process of stopping. This has saved me from getting hit quite a few times.

  2. I think I'm going to print this out and nail copies at all the 4 way stops in town!!

  3. YES. I realize I'm a year late in saying it, but YES. The stop-sign-madness in OKC is maddening. The end.

    1. Ha! Always nice when someone stumbles across my blog. :) The madness is nation-wide, but OK is particularly special.