Stop signs are everywhere. Their 8-sided shape is unique among road signs and so recognizable that every driver recognizes them. Their meaning is simple: stop your car.

factors that contribute to collisions, from defensive driving

#7 Stop Signs

So how is it that a stop sign was a factor
in more than 23,000 car collisions in 2008?

Enough crashes to make a stop sign factor #7 on the list of Top 10 Contributing Factors in auto collisions in Texas.

The reason for this is that either drivers don’t really know what to do when they come to a stop sign. Or they know what to do, but they aren’t doing it.

Because we’re basically teachers at Comedy Guys Defensive Driving, let’s start with that first possible explanation and discuss exactly what to do when you pull up to a stop sign.

Come to a complete stop. Not a pause. Not a “rolling stop.” Not a slight hesitation before going about your business. Your car needs to stop moving and stay put for at least two full seconds. And if you’re so rushed that you think a two-second delay will eat away at your precious time, how much time will it cost you if you get pulled over? Or crashed into?

Stop with your bumper behind the sign or behind the line on the pavement, if there is one. That lane marks the edge of the intersection, and if you cross it before stopping, you’ve stopped with your car in the intersection, which can be dangerous to you, inconvenient to others, or both. Even if there’s a crosswalk, stop behind the line and leave the crosswalk clear for pedestrians.

Stopping behind the line sometimes means that you’re too far back to see down the cross street. To deal with this, after you’ve come to a full stop you can move slowly forward far enough to see, provided the front end of your car is not in the way of traffic.

treat a flashing red light like a stop sign

The question of who gets to go first is often a problem at stop signs. Here are the basics:

  • First come, first served. The car that arrives first gets to go on first.
  • If two cars arrive at the intersection at the same time and one is turning, the car that is not turning gets to go first.
  • If two cars arrive together and neither is turning, whichever driver has a car to his left should let that car go first.

Remember always that drivers should not take right-of-way. The other drivers have to yield it, and it’s not really safe to keep going if the other drivers aren’t going to yield to you. Even if you’re sure that it’s your turn, make sure the way is clear before you drive on.

We mentioned above that people may not know what to do, or that they may know and just aren’t doing it.

There’s not much we can do about that second possibility. Like Comedy Guys teaches in our defensive driving classes, the only driver you can control is yourself. And if some other driver is determined to take stupid risks and treat stop signs like inconvenient suggestions, there’s really no way to make them do otherwise. To keep yourself safe, look out for drivers like this and stay out of their way if you encounter them.

If you’re one of those drivers who take chances at stop signs — pausing without really stopping, stopping in the intersection, or ignoring them altogether — you really need to rethink your habits. Those red 8-sided signs are not just time-wasting devices put there just to inconvenience you. Like other road signs, that stop sign wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t a real need. Traffic is expected to stop there because it’s not safe to do otherwise. Respect the danger and keep yourself safe.

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