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A 4-way stop

An all-way stop is an intersection system used predominantly in the United States of America, Canada and South Africa where traffic approaching it from all directions is required to stop before proceeding through the intersection. An all-way stop may have multiple approaches and may be marked with a supplemental plate stating the number of approaches.



A motorist approaching an all-way stop is always required to come to a full stop before the crosswalk or stop line. In most jurisdictions that use all-way stops, pedestrians always have priority at a crosswalk, even if the crosswalk is not delineated with pavement markings. Within some US jurisdictions, such as the state of Idaho, bicyclists are exempt from the need to make a complete stop, but must give way to other vehicles as otherwise required by law. After a full-stop has been made, vehicles usually have the right-of-way to proceed through the intersection in the order that they arrived at the intersection. In the USA, if vehicles arrive at approximately the same time, each driver must yield to the drivers on their right, while in South Africa drivers must use common sense and gestures. Some areas have additional formal and informal rules which may or may not include special procedures for when all stop signs are approached simultaneously.


In the USA the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) defines the standards commonly used for the application of all-way stops.[1] According to the MUTCD, installation of an all-way stop should be based on a traffic engineering study to determine if minimum traffic volume or safety criteria are met. These intersections are often found where roads with considerably equal traffic levels meet each other but the overall level of traffic present at the intersection does not justify a traffic light, and or in a location where the right of way was otherwise unclear. An all-way stop may also be justified if the intersection has a demonstrated history of crashes in a given period of a type susceptible to correction by installing an all-way stop. All-way stops may also be used as an interim measure preceding the placement of a traffic light, to provide a low-speed area for pedestrians to cross, where a cross street experiences considerable difficulty finding safe gaps due to heavy traffic volumes, or where traffic is frequently delayed by turning conflicts. Additionally the MUTCD advocates the placement of all-way stops at intersections between through roads in residential areas if an engineering study can show that traffic flow would be improved by installing the all-way stop control. Despite published guidelines, all-way stops are routinely placed by jurisdictions due to political pressure from adjacent residents.

Traffic signals will sometimes flash red indications in all directions following a malfunction, or all-red flashing operation may be scheduled to reduce delay or handle construction activity or unusual traffic patterns. When a traffic signal flashes in all-red mode, it legally operates as an all-way stop.[2][3][4] When all approaches to an intersection are controlled in this way the rules for an all-way stop apply. However, it must also be noted that traffic signals may also flash yellow to major directions and flash red to minor directions during off-peak times to minimize traffic delays, in which case only side-street traffic is required to stop and yield the right of way to crossing traffic on the major street.

During electrical outages when a traffic signal does not display any indications including flashing red, some jurisdictions require that the intersection be treated as an all-way stop. Other jurisdictions treat a dark signal as an uncontrolled intersection, where standard rules of right-of-way apply without the requirement of a complete stop.


  • Provides for equal priority for all approaches, which can reduce delays to side-street approaches that would otherwise need to wait for a safe gap.
  • Can provide a low-speed crossing point for pedestrians.
  • Ensures that all vehicles enter the intersection at a low speed, which may be useful when sight distance is highly restricted.


  • Increased delay, wasted fuel and vehicle wear by requiring all drivers to stop, even when conflicting traffic is not present.
  • Can worsen delays at adjacent intersections by causing traffic vehicles to leave the intersection equally spaced.
  • Creates an obstruction to traffic that would not otherwise exist, increasing the risk of rear-end crashes.
  • Reduced respect for stop signs if drivers perceive a complete stop to be unnecessary in the absence of conflicting traffic.
  • Once an all-way stop is installed, removal is difficult and risky, as habitual drivers may continue to expect an all-way stop condition.

Worldwide comparisons

Most countries outside North America, particularly in Europe, rarely have intersections where all users must stop at all times. One reason for this difference is historical development patterns, in that most parts of North America were developed on a grid pattern and after the advent of the automobile, which resulted in a much higher incidence of four-legged intersections compared to Europe. In Europe, where most roads developed centuries before, three-legged intersections are much more common, particularly in urban settings.

Gasoline prices have also historically been far higher in Europe than in North America, therefore a higher value is placed on the fuel wasted by unnecessary stops. Furthermore, the dominance of manual transmission vehicles in Europe, which are comparatively rare in North America, increases the inconvenience to the driver caused by unnecessary stops.

At four-legged intersections within Europe, roundabouts are a common treatment, however roundabouts remain rare in North America. Within the United States, many rotaries and traffic circles were constructed in populated areas of the Northeast states in the early 20th century, which often performed poorly under heavy traffic. Based on such failures, circular intersection designs continued to be resisted in the rest of the United States despite the later success of modern roundabouts in Europe and Australia. In the late 20th Century, roundabouts began to become more commonplace in North America but are still relatively rare compared to other continents.

See also


  1. ^ Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2003 revised version, section 2B-.07 Multi-Way Stop Applications[1]
  2. ^ New Mexico statute 66-7-107
  3. ^ Florida title XXIII statute 316.076
  4. ^ California Vehicle Code section 21457


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