I realize this is a difficult topic for some–telling the difference between shapes and color patterns–but it’s important that everyone knows the very important distinction between what a yield means and what a stop means. So, let’s begin.
This is a stop sign:
Please note its octagonal shape. An “octagon” is a shape that has 8 sides connected by 135° angles. The octagon is red with a white border and white letters that read STOP. You may also see the word “STOP” painted onto the ground next to the stop sign. You have to stop here no matter what. Educate yourself on intersections with stop signs here.
This is a yield sign:
Note the shape. This is a triangle. It only has 3 sides, and all the angles must add up to 180°. The colors are similar here. There is a white outline, followed a red section, and then there’s a white triangle in the middle, and then the word “YIELD” written in red. You only have to stop at a yield sign if it is not safe to continue from that point. One of the definitions of yield is “to give way to or become succeeded by someone or something else.” In essence, you don’t have the right of way at a yield sign. You are surrendering your self-importance and letting someone else go first. This could mean waiting for a long line of cars to pass and then continuing behind those vehicles, and/or someone coming at a perpendicular angle to where the yield sign is. Yields are common in roundabouts (that’s a whole other mess in itself), and you’re not supposed to stop before entering a roundabout unless it is unsafe to do so. Basically, if you’re going to hit/nearly hit someone, or get hit/nearly hit by someone, you should probably stop for a moment. (You don’t even have to do a real stop at yields! You can keep rolling like so many people do at stop signs anyway.)
In the instance I experienced yesterday, I was on an off ramp, heading towards a main road. The road was separated by a median, so you could only go one way when you get off. There is a yield sign at the end of this off-ramp, and there is rarely a need to stop. However, this jerk decided to go about 20 mph on the off-ramp (sure it was a curve, but come on), and then proceeded to STOP at a YIELD sign when NO ONE was coming. Like, full on stop. They then decided to inch forward a little and continue moving at the speed of continental drift until I passed them sort of angrily. This stuff also happens ALL the time at roundabouts and drives me nuts. The point of a roundabout is to reduce traffic congestion. If it’s safe, enter the roundabout. If there’s someone about to drive past you, wait. Some roundabouts are set up HORRENDOUSLY, but we’ll save that for another discussion.
“You keep saying, ‘when it’s safe to do so,’ but how do I know when it’s safe!?” You may be asking with a slight panic setting in.
The simple answer: You plan ahead.
You should never be tunnel visioned while driving, but we’ve all been guilty of that. We need to break that habit, though. When approaching a yield sign, look around you. In the case of the off-ramp, I look onto the road a couple times as soon as I can see it, and then plan what speed I need to be at (similar to merging). If there’s no way in hell I’m going to get on the road because of heavy traffic, I’ll slow down, yield to the cars with the right-of-way, and then continue when I get a chance. When coming to other yield signs, make sure you look both ways and all that stuff BEFORE getting there so you know if you have to stop or not. It’s pretty simple.