The Allegory of the Four-Way Stop

Four-way stops are easy, right?  Stop, then take your turn after everyone else has gone. Is it a tie? Person on the right goes first. Easy. No problem.

Does everyone totally adhere to The Rules of the Four Way Stop? I bet they think they do. But you’ve seen these…

-The “rolling stopper”…
-The one on the phone who wasn’t paying attention to the order…
-The “wave everyone through” person…

When you get to a four-way stop, and you KNOW that it’s your turn, but you can tell that someone else THINKS it is their turn, what do you do?  If you follow The Rules, you’ll get into a wreck. So, you let them go.  Hopefully.  Perhaps with some muttered words, hopefully not with a “gesture,” but you let go of The Rules.

Best practices at the four-way stop:

-Be alert and know whose turn it is.
-Notice the body language, facial expressions, and distractedness of the other drivers.
-Act accordingly.


-Avoid anything that might confuse others. No rolling.  No waving-through (you’re not doing anyone a favor — starting a tangent here–

My driving instructor once told me that waving someone through meant this:

“I have evaluated the situation and determined that it is totally safe and assume all liability for anything that may occur next.”

I’m not sure if that’s true or not in a legal sense, but it rings true in a moral sense. You’re also saying this:

“I know that there are The Rules, but I am singlehandedly deciding to over-ride them with my sense of what ought to happen.”

It could be argued that waving-through is selfish, rude, and throws people off; not helpful at all. But I digress…

The bottom line is this:

At a four-way stop, you know that blind adherence to the rules would result in wrecks, because not everyone is on the same page.  The way to avoid confusion and collision is to be sensitive to the situation, read the intentions of others, and meet the needs of the situation.

Now, make it more “local;” have you ever seen anyone lose sight of the forest for the trees because of blind adherence to The Rules?  Have you ever had a reasonable request for flexibility denied because of The Policy?

If everyone is following The Rules, things work smoothly.  But they don’t.  So, what are you going to do?  Avoid wrecks by observing, staying alert for confusion, and acting accordingly.

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