The four-way stop is a traffic control innovation from the 1970s in the United States (I have not seen it in any of the foreign countries I have visited).

A four-way stop is an intersection of two roads, with each entry into the intersection having a stop sign at it. Supposedly, you cannot pass a written driving test without knowing the fundamentals of a four-way stop, but I think a lot of people are slipping through the cracks.

The rule as it's said in most drivers manuals is that if there are multiple people at the stop, the one who got to the intersection first goes first. In the event of a tie, the person on the right goes first. However, I've noticed that people usually negotiate a four-way stop like this:

"Hey, no one else is going! I'll go! Wait, why are they going too! Asshole! I went first!"

This is wrong.

My basic rules for a four-way stop are these:

  1. When you get to the intersection, all the cars whose grills you can see go before you.
  2. You do not officially "get" to the intersection until there are NO more cars in front of you. I think a lot of problems with four-way stops come to a loose interpretation of the when you get to the intersection rule. Just because you've been waiting in a long line of cars doesn't mean you get to break traffic laws. You're not at the intersection until you're the car in front of all the other ones.
  3. If someone attempts to violate these rules, honk, look straight at them, and shake your head in stern disapproval. They may still break the rule, but at they might realize they've actually done something wrong, or at least, that someone disapproves of.
I really think increasing four-way stop awareness is important in our society today. Mind you, I'm not a goody two-shoes when it comes to obeying traffic laws, but in the case of the four-way stop, it's one of the few driving situations where people have to behave communally, which Americans probably aren't always good at. But if you do it right, everyone goes faster.