The 4-Way Stop Courtesy
This traffic pattern was never something I had considered before. I grew up with it. We learn how to take advantage of the situation practically as soon as you learn to drive. Then, I had some friends visit from Australia who just had to know how this amazing display of courtesy actually worked. I also heard, recently, that this may be a purely Canadian phenomenon, not North American as I assumed. Maybe someone can chime in.
Well, I guess it is courteous, and is a bit of an honour system for drivers. For starters, roundabouts are very rare here; enough so that many of us are completely confused upon seeing one. Secondly, if an intersection is not large enough to have lights controlling it, there will be a stop sign controlling at least one direction of traffic. I have witnessed a couple of residential intersections with no control and experienced a moment of panic upon realizing this while half way through. We are very used to our structured traffic.
We also have the four-way stop. (Please note, three-way stops, all-way stops, and the dreaded five-way stop are all the same, just with a different number of roads connecting or different wording.) Procedure is as follows. Come to a complete stop as you would at any intersection. The car which came to a stop FIRST, is the car that is next to go. I guess it is a very polite and courteous rule. Often, this will result in the roads having alternating turns. Sometimes, the whole thing feels much to complicated when left-turners need their own turn. It always sorts itself out, though, and remains slow-paced and safe in the meantime.
Bonus rule: if two cars arrive at the intersection at the same time, the driver on the right has the right of way. A friendly wave can let the other driver know that you are aware it’s their turn.
Bonus Question: An ambulance, a firetruck, a police car, and a mail truck all arrive at the intersection at the exact same time. Who gets to go first? Why?