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How to Navigate Intersections Safely: A Guide for Drivers

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Intersections are places where roads meet and traffic flows in different directions. They can be confusing and dangerous for drivers, especially when there are no clear signs or signals to indicate who has the right of way. Read on as the experienced agents from Altra Insurance Services, a premier provider of San Diego car insurance, explain some basic rules and tips for navigating intersections safely and smoothly.

Right of Way

Right of way is the legal term that determines who should go first at an intersection. It doesn’t mean you have the right to go whenever you want but rather that you must yield to other vehicles or pedestrians who have the right of way in certain situations. Right of way is not always obvious, so you need to use common sense and courtesy to avoid collisions and conflicts.

Controlled Intersections

Controlled intersections have signs or signals that tell drivers what to do. Examples include stop signs, yield signs, traffic lights, and roundabouts. You must obey the signs or signals and follow these general rules:

  • When you approach a stop sign, you must come to a full stop at the stop line or before the crosswalk. If there’s no stop line or crosswalk, stop before the intersection where you can see the traffic. Yield to cyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles that are already in the intersection or approaching it. Wait until the intersection is clear and then proceed.
  • A yield sign indicates you must slow down and be ready to stop if necessary. As with a stop sign, you must yield to pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles that are already in or approaching the intersection. Only proceed when it’s safe and clear.
  • If the intersection has a traffic light, you must follow the color of the light. Green means go, yellow means caution, and red means stop. Don’t enter the intersection on a yellow or red light unless you’re already in it or can’t safely stop. If you’re turning left or right, you must yield to pedestrians, cyclists, and oncoming vehicles that have the right of way.
  • When entering a roundabout, you must yield to all traffic that’s already in the circle and enter only when there’s a gap in traffic. Follow the direction of the circle and exit at your desired road. Watch for pedestrians and cyclists in crosswalks.

Uncontrolled Intersections

Uncontrolled intersections don’t have signs or signals that tell drivers what to do. They may have pavement markings such as lines or crosswalks, but those aren’t always visible or clear. You must use extra caution and follow these general rules:

  • When you approach an intersection without a stop or yield sign, decrease your speed and be ready to stop if necessary. Yield to pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles that are already in or approaching the intersection.
  • When you reach an intersection at the same time as another vehicle, yield to the vehicle on your right. This is called the right-of-way rule.
  • When turning left at an intersection, yield to oncoming traffic that’s going straight or turning right. This applies whether you have a stop sign or not.
  • When turning right at an intersection, check for pedestrians and cyclists on your right. Yield to them before proceeding.


T-intersections are where two roads meet and one of them ends. The vehicle traveling on the road that ends must yield to all traffic and crossing pedestrians on the through road unless otherwise signed.

Four-Way Stops

Four-way stops can be particularly confusing, but following these simple rules can make them much easier to navigate:

  • The first vehicle to come to a complete stop at the intersection should proceed first.
  • If two vehicles stop simultaneously, the one on the right has the right of way.

Things to Remember

Here are some other tips and reminders for navigating intersections safely:

  • Never assume what another driver will do. Always signal your intentions and make eye contact if possible.
  • Never insist on taking the right of way. Be courteous and cooperative with other drivers.
  • Never block an intersection. If there’s no space for your vehicle on the other side of the intersection, wait until there is before entering.
  • Always look for signs, signals, and markings that may affect your right of way. They may change depending on the time of day, weather conditions, or special events.
  • Always be alert for pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users who may cross your path at intersections. They may not follow the rules or be visible.

Intersections are common places where collisions occur, so it’s important to know how to handle them safely. By following the right-of-way rules and being courteous and cautious, you can avoid accidents and conflicts with other drivers, but in the event you do have an accident, it’s important to have adequate auto insurance. San Diego vehicle owners can reach out to Altra Insurance Services for affordable insurance coverage. Give us a call at (619) 404-6311 to receive a complimentary quote.

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