The first time I drove in Copperas Cove could have ended in disaster. I was cruising along in my rental car along Avenue D, came upon an intersection and saw cross traffic was stopped, so I zoomed merrily along the street. (This was before the two stoplights at First and Main had been installed.)
It wasn’t until I looked in the rearview mirror that I saw what I’d done. I’d just blown through a four-way stop like I owned the road.
Several thoughts came to me. First, I was grateful I’d purchased full coverage for the rental. Then came the what-ifs. What if someone had chosen to drive across Avenue D in front of me? What if I’d hit them, or they hit me?
In New England, where I come from, we have a lot of rotaries, or traffic circles. Those I was used to. Drove them without a quiver of nerves.
By the time I arrived to my appointment, I’d regained my composure and everything went well. After I moved to town, I realized I’d need to pay attention to the four-way stops and learn to deal with them.
Four-way stops can be tricky sometimes. You can almost hear the theme song from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” as drivers face off at an intersection. Who’s going to go first? Whoever gets there first, says the driver’s ed rule book.
Four-way stops bring out several styles of driving. There’s the clueless one, you know who I’m talking about. They’ve been yapping nonstop to a passenger or on their phone. They bee-bop up to the stop sign, don’t look, and keep right on going after the tiniest of pauses. The rest of us drivers wish the PD was there, witnessing their cluelessness.
Then there’s the timid drivers. They’ll sit there and hold up traffic, even though they were first. You can almost hear them: “No, really, you go first. I have nothing better to do than let everyone else go in front of me.”
Then there’s the ultra-polite. It’s interesting being at a four-way stop with two of them wanting to cross.
“You go first.”
“No, you go.”
“No, really, I insist.”
The other drivers sit there, wishing somebody would go ahead and cross. Usually it’s the impatient one who goes. You can always tell the impatient driver. They’re usually speeding, or at the very least driving aggressively. They may or may not drive a large truck, perhaps even a minivan with lots of school stickers on the back.
As you approach the intersection, you see them flying up so they make sure they get there before you do. Really, if someone’s in that much of a hurry, go right ahead. Have a fender-bender, just not with me.
Lastly, there’s the drivers who think you’re a mind reader. You should know they’re going to turn left, even without them using their turn signal. Then when they nearly hit you, they look at you as if it’s your fault you didn’t know.
Getting accustomed to negotiating four-way stops isn’t rocket science, but it is an exercise in manners, and simply being aware of your surroundings. Sort of like life. It’s a little easier to deal with when we don’t drive like we’re the only ones on the road. We don’t have to be timid, either. Just drive the course and don’t hold up traffic because eventually someone will pass you by. Don’t be overly polite. Give someone else a little bit of grace, but also accept grace from another. Have a little patience, too. That’ll make your journey a little easier, if not avoid a few accidents. Finally, don’t expect someone else to know what you’re thinking. Speak up for yourself, give a signal of what you’re about to do or would like to do. There’s less confusion and everyone can get where they’d like to go. So be safe out there, in a world of four-way stops.