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Driving You Crazy: Who has the right-of-way at a two-way stop if you're making a left?

Left turn
Posted at 4:59 AM, Nov 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-08 08:03:32-05

Linda from Broomfield writes, “What's driving you crazy? Your recent 4-way stop story reminded me of a question that I haven't been able to find an answer to. Here is the scenario: 2-way stop with moderate to heavy traffic on the through street. One vehicle arrives at the stop sign to turn left. Waits a while for traffic on the through street to clear. Meanwhile, a vehicle pulls up on the opposite side to go straight. I say it's first come, first to go, so the vehicle turning left should go first when safe. I've had someone tell me the person going straight has the right of way. I asked what if 3 more vehicles pull up to go straight. The left-turner could be there a very long time. She said after the first one goes straight, then the car could turn left. That sounds like too much for everyone to keep track of. What do the experts say?

The simple rule of thumb, Linda, is that a driver wanting to turn needs to yield to a driver wanting to go straight no matter how many drivers there are wanting to go straight. When you pull up to a two-way stop, you obviously first have to yield to any cross traffic on that road. Next, if you are turning left, you need to yield to any straight across driver, even if there are multiple straight across drivers and even if those drivers pulled up to the stop sign well after you did.

The website Driving.ca explains it this way: “Picture the intersection with traffic lights. No matter who arrived first, when the light turns green, you always wait for cars to proceed before you make a left-hand turn. This is the same, only with signs instead of red lights.”

Driving You Crazy: Who has the right-of-way at a two-way stop if you're making a left?

I sent your question to a couple of local driving schools. Ben Baron, owner of DriveSafe Driving Schools in Evergreen, said he believes the first driver to arrive at the intersection doesn’t necessarily have the right-of-way. He said when cars are across from each other, whether at a 2-way or 4-way stop, there is no rule about who gets the right of way.

“But remember, the primary consideration is everyone’s safety, not who’s ‘right’ and you can never be sure that other drivers are playing by the same set of rules as you," Baron said.

Baron said in these potential conflict situations, courtesy is the guideline.

“It’s also very helpful to signal your intentions to other drivers, whether with hand signals or by flashing your lights," he said. "Also worth noting, if two cars were to collide in this scenario, both could be given tickets for failure to yield."

Conversely, Sherri from the Westminster 911 Driving School said their top driving instructor teaches that the vehicle going straight would have the right-of-way.

The Colorado driver handbook doesn’t specifically give guidance on this conflict, only stating on page 11, “Turning left: You must yield to all oncoming traffic, unless you have a green arrow or arrived first at a four-way stop.”

MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

The handbook goes much more in depth about what to do at a four-way stop saying, “You must yield the right-of-way to the vehicle that reached the intersection first. When more than one vehicle reaches the intersection at the same time, the vehicle on the left must yield the right-of-way and allow the vehicle on the right to go first. Regardless of who has the right of way you are always responsible for avoiding a crash.”

The website DefensiveDriving.com clearly states what driver they believe has the right-of-way saying, “STRAIGHT TRAFFIC GOES FIRST. At just about any intersection, those who are going straight always take priority over those who are turning. So, if you are turning left, it is your responsibility to yield to the traffic going straight ahead in the opposite direction.”

So bottom line, Linda, straight before left no matter how many straights there are.

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , iHeart, Spotify or Podbean.