If you think about it, intersections are probably the most dangerous places to be. After all, intersections are where vehicles and pedestrians are trying to occupy the same real estate. And the statistics bear this out: about 20 percent of all crashes occur at intersections. The key, therefore, is to follow the traffic signs or signals and take turns going through intersections.

Whether it is an unsignalized intersection, an intersection with traffic signals, or one with a roundabout, it is important to understand how vehicles and pedestrians are intended to go through it.

  • At less busy intersections, there may not be any signs or signals. At these locations, remember to yield to traffic that is already in the intersection.
  • At busier intersections, STOP or YIELD signs might be in place to give priority or the right-of-way to traffic on the busier street.
  • At some intersections, there may be “4-way” or “All-way” tabs below the STOP sign. This means that all directions have a STOP sign. In these cases, the vehicle that arrives first gets to go first. In the event of a tie, yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.
  • At some of the newer intersections, a roundabout may be used to control traffic. At roundabouts, the vehicles already in the roundabout have the right of way. For more information about roundabouts and how to get through them safely, see Roundabouts.
  • At the busiest intersections, traffic signals may be used to alternate right-of-way to each street, and perhaps even to each direction of traffic.
  • Also, during a ‘fresh’ green or at signalized intersections where the light has just turned green, be on the lookout for cars on the crossing street that are going through on a red light.
  • Conversely, on ‘stale’ green or where the light has been green for some time, be prepared to slow down in case the light changes to yellow or amber. Take your foot off the gas pedal and cover (but don’t press on) the brake pedal.
  • Remember that a yellow or amber light doesn’t mean speed up; it means that the light is about to turn red and that you should be prepared to stop.
  • Pedestrians are particularly vulnerable at intersections. Be alert for pedestrians at busy intersections near bus stops, schools, shopping areas or business districts. Like some drivers, pedestrians may be distracted by their mobile devices or other pedestrians, and may behave erratically and unpredictably.
  • If you arrive at a signalized intersection where the electricity has gone out, or if you see that the red light is flashing on and off, proceed through that intersection as if all directions had a STOP sign.
  • In all cases, you must yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles (police, fire, ambulance, etc.) that are at an intersection.

Consult your state’s driving manual for more information about intersections that may be unique to your state.