The 5 People You Meet at a 4-Way Stop

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

All over the city, strange little pockets of insanity are nestled at the intersections of our fair roadways. Few of us seem to understand how to navigate these asphalt obstacles, making up our own rules as we go along.

But people, there are rules. Rules you must follow.

I’m talking about four-way stops. I assume that, no matter where one lives in these great United States, one believes the drivers in their town are the worst at four-way stopping. Well, I hate to break it to one, but Eau Claire has the worst four-way stoppers anywhere. I have no data to back this up, and I’m totally basing this assertion on my own, limited personal experience, but since I feel so strongly about it, let's just say it’s true, all right?

All right.

In an effort to better understand the sheer ineptitude that overtakes normally sane, relatively kind people as they arrive at a four-way stop, I’ve broken down horrible four-way stoppers into a number of subgroups, identified by type. See if you’ve run into these people, either literarily or figuratively.


The “no-you-goer” appears to be a product of Midwestern upbringing, too polite to just take their turn, deferring instead to other motorists.

Of all the people who simply can’t figure out a four-way stop, this is the most common of the bunch. The no-you-goer appears to be a product of Midwestern upbringing, too polite to just take their turn, deferring instead to other motorists. They might use a polite wave or a friendly come hither gesture. They may even mouth the words “no you go.”

Unfortunately, while their heart is in the right place, they put everyone else in the awkward position of cutting in line. And for this, they deserve scorn and ridicule.

Just go when you are supposed to, people.

Note: Google “Portlandia no you go” to see the Portland version of this.


This driver, in lieu of actually paying attention to nearby cars to discern when they may go, simply waits until no one seems to be moving. Then they hesitantly inch into the intersection, as if they are dipping their toe into a jungle river to check for alligators.

However, as soon as they detect movement from another car, they freeze. And then the other car freezes. And this will often trigger an infinite loop of startin-n-stoppin as the two drivers inch closer and closer to each other – alternately assuming the other is going and then not going. Neither driver ever makes it through the intersection as they perpetually start and stop throughout the infinite expanse of space and time, locked in never-ending agony. And the rest of us must sit there and watch them as the ice cream we just bought gets all squishy.


This clever driver has places to be and people to see and if all you other drivers are just going to waste time coming to a complete and legal stop, that’s your own damn problem because they ain’t got time for that. They’ll roll past the stop sign, artfully watching for openings in the flow of traffic like a kung-fu master in a Zen trance, only to gun it and rocket through pockets of open street. They rattle off into the sunset, confident that you are jealous of their tiger-like driving skills and bold maneuvering.

But really, you hope they rear end a cop.


This is the worst four-way-stopper in all the land. He is usually a man. A take charge kind of man. This guy pulls up to the intersection ready to command the situation, providing the order and stability we’re obviously too weak and feeble to produce for ourselves.

They know four-way stops can be a messy affair, so like a super-boring Superman, they’ve swooped up to the intersection to save us all. Don’t worry about figuring out when to go – they will direct you. With a curt wave of two fingers, they tell you when and where to drive. You don’t even have to think for yourself! Fear not, the Intersection King has arrived to grant us driving rights. 

Stop. There is no need to thank him.

Heavens praise this benevolent driver. May he one day drive into a ditch filled with hot cow manure and insect larvae. 


If you are a person who pulls up to a four-way stop, paying attention to all your fellow motorists, immediately able to tell the order in which everyone should go, taking your own turn with confidence at the correct time ... well, you ma’am or sir, are like a beautiful unicorn, driving your car about town upon wheels of pure sunlight. Bless you.

You deserve to have your annual vehicle registration fees waived for all of eternity and the State of Wisconsin should send you a big box of donuts on the first of every month.

You are a shining example for us all, and I wish there were more like you.

Drive safe.

UPDATE: Here's how to use a four-way stop

Though I'm betting the people reading this already understand the situation just fine, here's an informative video on how to properly use a four-way stop – and it even addresses the often misunderstood rule governing right-of-way when two cars on the same street arrive/stop at the same time and one driver desires to turn left.