Yield Signs vs. Stop Signs

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.


How to handle intersections

Navigating through unregulated 4-way intersections (ones without lights) should really be as easy as counting to 4.  Or 3 or 2, depending on how many stop signs there are.  The rule with these kinds of intersections is that you get to proceed on a first-come, first-move basis.  No. Cheating.

Naturally, there are exceptions, as there are with any situation. The following diagrams provide a visual representation of what to do in some sample situations.

(I’ve already discussed not pulling out in front of people, and those rules apply to here as well.)

We’ll start with a relatively simple scenario.


This kind of deal happens a lot at one particular intersection where I live.  The brown-ish car is attempting to make a left-hand turn.  The teal-ish car is attempting to make a right hand turn.  Now, if this is one of those intersections where there’s never anyone on the road, then whatever, fight for who gets to go first, but the particular intersection where this happens all the time is plagued with heavy cross-traffic.  Alas, the poor person trying to make a left will never get home if everyone turning right never lets them go.

This requires the cooperation of both the brown car and the teal car.  Each driver must keep note of who arrived at the stop sign first.  Each driver must also be aware of on-coming traffic in both lanes.   The teal car needs to decide whether he/she is the only car of the two able to make the turn safely or not.  By this I mean, if there is a long string of cars in the opposing lane and the nearest lane into which he/she is turning is completely open, then the teal car may go despite order of arrival; if both lanes are  clear, then order of arrival wins out.  It’s slightly complicated, which is why these kinds of intersections suck at rush hour–and why they cause so many problems in general.

Continuing on, the above scenario applies if one car is making a right turn and the opposite car is making a left tern.  The diagram below shows an easier case where the brown and teal cars are not attempting to go into the same lane.  With this situations it is SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT TO USE YOUR FRICKEN SIGNAL! A lot of problems at intersections and in life could be avoided by signalling.  It is key to let the other person know what you want to do so they can plan accordingly and everyone can get to their desired destination intact.


Next, let’s talk about those pesky 4-way stop intersections.  They really should not be as awful as everyone makes them.  You proceed in a sequential order.  If you get there at the same time as someone else, then you’re just being a jerk… or they’re being a jerk.. someone involved in that situation is being uncool.  Slow down and let them stop first, or use the written rule which say that the person on the right goes first… which seems odd to me because a 4-way intersection is kind of like a circle and there isn’t just “one” person who is on the right and “right” is a matter of perspective… but I digress.

Anyway, at these intersections you keep track of who is going and in what order– “1, 2, 3, 4”.  Count out loud if you have to. I do when the intersection is exceptionally busy.


As you can see above, we have an example of a busy 4-way intersection.  The number 1 car was the first to arrive and is currently making its way through the intersection.  The second car to arrive (2), will proceed after 1 has either started or completed their move (depends on where car 2 is going.  Assuming  car 1 is going straight at this intersection, car 2 can begin to either go straight or make a right turn as soon as car 1 begins to make their move.  If car 2 is making a left turn, they obviously have to wait.)  Once car 3 has done their move, car 4 can go.  After this, car “1a” will make their maneuver and the cycle continues over again.  Always make sure that you are keeping track as to where other people are going and what order they are all arriving at the intersection.

Unfortunately, this whole “if you’re there first, go first” hits a bit of a snag when you reach a scenario like the one below:


1 is currently doing their thing through the intersection, and clearly 2 is second to move.  Now, from the way this picture is drawn it appears that 3 is going to reach the stop line before 4 is.  However, if 4 were closer to the line and does in fact reach in the intersection before 3 does, the green car would then be 3 and the blue car would be 4.

When in doubt, use hand signals.  If you do use hand signals of some kind, don’t wait 5 minutes until everyone’s all confused before you use them.

And if other people are too thick to get the whole process of the intersection, take deep breaths, avoid any accidents, and continue on to your destination.

Also remember that driving is a group activity and you’re going to have to cooperate.