Signs of a Four-Way That Won’t Blink

| April 24, 2012 | 0 Comments

April 24, 2012 —

In last week’s Friday Five, the SmartSign blog posted about NMDOT installing blinking four-way stop signs at several mildly congested intersections in the Alamogordo area. After conducting a comprehensive traffic study, New Mexican officials have decided that the number of motorists passing through the intersections were too few to warrant a traffic light. The all-way stops were implemented to improve drivers’ awareness and engagement with the road ahead, without the unecessary cost of lights.

A retroflective Stop Sign Ahead sign can inform drivers of an upcoming four-way stop.

In the wake of the Department of Transportation’s decision follows much discussion regarding the possible detriments of installing four-way stop signs as an alternative to traffic lights. Some argue that that the four-way stop, which requires drivers to communicate amongst themselves, relies too heavily on people’s regard for their fellow commuters. As vehicles pull up to a four-way intersection with an all-way stop sign in place, standard protocol dictates that they must yield to the drivers on their right. Cyclists are exempt from making a complete stop, and pedestrians are always given priority, especially if there is a crosswalk.

Since four-way stops are often introduced at intersections on less-populated roads, concerned citizens fear that drivers frequenting these areas will be pre-conditioned to disregard uncommon traffic safety measures. With the prevalence of distracted driving amongst today’s youth and young adults, four-way stops could bring more danger than safety to teen drivers using their cell phones or texting at the wheel. However, those in favor of this cheaper alternative see four-way stops as an opportunity to enforce attentiveness on roads with fewer cars. 

A diagram of the order of cars in a four-way stop .

Supporters of the four-way stop see it as an unlikely solution with palpable benefits. If nothing else, the presence of four-way stops in rural or suburban intersections can encourage those behind the wheel to slow down, since they are basically forced to acknowledge that there are other drivers on the road. Additionally, these four-way stop signs are more cost-effective than traffic lights. If drivers truly heed regulations at these intersections, then the energy expended in maintaining a set of traffic lights decreases considerably.

Traffic lights consume large amounts of electrical power, even the LED versions that are designed to be eco-friendly. Much of this drain comes from the powerful lamps that constantly alternate color to maintain a reasonable and safe flow of traffic. When four-way stops are implemented in place of electronic billboards, the potential for saving energy and money is exponential. Even an electronic set of blinking four-way stop signs is less of an electricity drain than are LED or regular traffic lights.

In an opinion column for the Portland Daily Sun, Telly Halkias writes that “sitting at a four-way stop is a laboratory of the human condition and makes for a grand opera.” This brings up our question for the comments section: Is the opera  tragedy or a comedy? Let us know if you think four-way stops encourage driver engagement or compromise traffic safety.

–          R. Sapon-White


Category: News