How to Drive Like a Local: Four-Way Stop Signs

One of the challenges of getting to know any new city is learning the unspoken rules of its roads. That problem is compounded exponentially by the quirkiness, shall we say, of San Diego drivers. Therefore, in order to reduce the chances of a misunderstanding, visitors and more permanent arrivals would do well to educate themselves as much as possible about how the locals operate.

Drivers from elsewhere will be used to deferring to the rules of the road when deciding who goes first at an intersection (e.g., first to arrive, tie goes to the right, straight before turns, etc.).

Visitors and newcomers should know that, as a general rule, traffic laws are only occasionally followed in America’s Finest City. For the local, rules of the road really means – only apply these practices if you can remember the rules, and only if you feel like doing so.

San Diegans have evolved a couple opposite approaches, in place of the legal ones, to handle when two or more vehicles arrive at a four-way stop simultaneously and need to decide who should go first in order to avoid a collision.

The first is to slow down enough to give fellow travelers the impression that you will come to a complete stop, only to accelerate and roll through the intersection.

The purpose of this maneuver is to save everyone else at the intersection the trouble of determining who has the right to proceed first. What a kind, thoughtful approach. Rather than burdening fellow travelers with another decision, you’ve taken the choice right out of their hands and applied it to your advantage.

It’s a win-win.

You will quickly recognize those naïve and foolish drivers who still believe in applying adult standards of behavior to the act of operating a motor vehicle. They will look shocked, even angry, as they slam on their brakes to avoid colliding with you, and might honk in protest as you pass.

It is important to have an appropriate hand gesture ready for those instances. The most common SoCal response is to give a breezy, passive-aggressive wave. This lets the other driver know that you’re the selfless, laid back type who has already forgiven them for having the temerity to make an unpleasant noise at you.

The other most popular reaction involves a single extended finger.

The second approach to four-way stops is both more complicated and commonplace. It involves planning, patience, and persistence.

The most important step is the first. You must get to your limit line (i.e., the white strip behind which you’re supposed to stop) an instant or two before another vehicle arrives.

Then, sit patiently and stare at your counterpart while waiting for them to proceed. The other driver will likely be confused that you are not moving and will, in their way, wait for you to go, since you arrived at the intersection first.

Don’t be fooled. This power struggle has only just begun.

Remind yourself that your fellow traveler is clearly a tourist who hasn’t yet grasped the San Diego system.

Wave for them to go ahead.

And flash your high beams to hammer home the point. Make sure you do this before they do or you’ll be obligated to proceed forward.

No matter how long you have to wait, keep your foot firmly planted on the brake. Consider putting the vehicle in park.

Then, the moment the other car begins to pull forward, stomp on your accelerator so that your vehicle violently lurches forward about five feet. Just enough distance to get your counterpart to stop moving.

Then slam on your brakes.

Your fellow traveler will, in the interim, have come to an abrupt halt. Feeling shocked and betrayed, they will flash their high beams and wave energetically for you to go ahead.

Remember that this is not about courtesy or efficiency, it is about you. You unilaterally determined that the other vehicle should go first, and damnit, you’re the kind of person who sticks to their decision once they’ve made up their mind.

Besides, if you were to pull forward at that moment you’d lose face.

Wait until your new nemesis begins to move, and lurch forward again. This is just a test to make sure that the other driver will really follow through with their commitment.

They will, of course, stop again. Finally, in an exaggerated manner, throw up your hands as if to say, “What are you waiting for?!?”

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with another installment soon.

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