Driving Through Intersections
Driving Through Intersections

Intersections: Negotiating Your Space on The Road

Updated Oct. 22, 2020

An intersection is a point where two or more roads join together. An intersection is an especially dangerous part of the road due to the fact that vehicle trajectories may intersect, which would automatically result in a crash. According to statistics, crashes at intersections, driveways and highway entrance ramps are the second most common type of traffic accidents, it comes right after hitting a stationary object.

There are many different types of intersections, they are categorized by the number of roads joining at the intersection and their configuration. A regular 4-way intersection is probably the most common intersection out there, but you will also encounter more complex intersections, such as Y-intersections, roundabouts and interchanges. Access to the intersection may be controlled by traffic signals, road signs or the “right-of-way” rules.

Controlled intersections

A controlled intersection utilizes road signs or traffic signals to control the flow of traffic through the intersection. Knowing and observing these signs and signals is imperative to your safety.

An intersection controlled by a traffic light

Traffic Signals

Traffic signals are one of the most recognizable parts of road infrastructure, we learn how to use them from a very early age. Traffic signals control movement of all traffic through the intersection: this includes vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. Traffic signals can be arranged in vertical or horizontal lines.

An intersection controlled by a yield sign

Yield Sign

A yield-controlled intersection is another common type of controlled intersection that uses yield signs to prioritize traffic moving from a certain direction. Vehicles entering the intersection from a road that has a yield sign installed must slow down and give way to all other traffic going through the intersection.

An intersection controlled by a stop sign

Stop Sign

A stop-controlled intersection is another common type of a sign-controlled intersection. Vehicles entering the intersection from a road that has a stop sign installed must come to a complete stop and yield to cross traffic before going through the intersection. A four-way stop intersection requires vehicles coming from all directions to come to a complete stop before going through the intersections. Vehicles that arrive to the intersection first have the right of way.

Uncontrolled intersections

Uncontrolled intersections are usually employed in places where low amount of traffic does not warrant the installation of additional traffic control devices or where such traffic control devices may not perform at their best and confuse drivers. When going through an uncontrolled intersection, you must observe the right-of-way rules and pay due caution. The two most-recognizable types of uncontrolled intersections are highway interchanges and roundabouts.

Highway Interchange

Highway Interchange

An interchange is the intersection of two highways at different levels with connecting roads that transfer traffic from one highway to another. The main advantage of an interchange over a regular controlled intersection is that traffic can enter or leave either highway without stopping or interfering with other vehicles that are already traveling on the highway. This reduces traffic blocks and allows for more vehicles to pass through the intersection. Although there are many different types of interchanges, the most common ones are called “directional”, “cloverleaf”, “diamond” and “trumpet”.



A roundabout is another type of uncontrolled intersections where traffic circulates around an island in the middle of the intersection. Vehicles that are about the enter a roundabout must yield to traffic that is already on the roundabout. Always look out for and yield to pedestrians and cyclists that are crossing the road. Note: some roundabouts are controlled by yield signs and additional pavement markings but it does not change the right-of-way rules.

Road signs at intersections

Traffic signs may be installed directly at the intersection or on approaches to the intersection. Warning signs are usually installed on approaches to intersection, while regulatory signs are installed directly at the intersection.

Warning Intersection Sign

Warning intersection signs, such as the “crossroad”, “side road”, “T-intersection”, “Y-intersection” or “circular intersection” let you know when there is an intersection ahead and provide you with information on how the roads join each other.

Weave Area Traffic Sign

Other warning signs, such as “added lane” and “weave area” are installed before interchanges and warn you about merging traffic so you may change lanes in advance and pay extra caution.

Regulatory signs

Lane Use Control Sign

Regulatory signs, such as a “yield” sign, “stop sign”, various lane use control signs are installed directly before the intersection. Regulatory signs advise you on the direction of traffic and turning restrictions. Lane-use control signs are usually posted directly above traffic lanes.

Right-of-way at Intersections

Yield To The Vehicle on The Right

At uncontrolled intersections, the driver must yield to all vehicles that have already entered the intersection. If two vehicles arrive at an intersection at the same time, the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right.

Yield to Traffic When Turning Left

Unless you are making a protected left turn under a green arrow traffic signal, you must yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians crossing the road.

Yield Sign at An Intersection

When there is a yield sign before the intersection, you must slow down and yield to all vehicles that are on the protected route.

Yield at Stop-controlled Intersections

When there is a stop sign posted before the intersection, you must come to a complete stop and yield to all vehicles on the protected route.

Stop Controlled Intersection

On a 4-way stop intersection, the vehicle that arrives to the intersection first has the right of way and enters the intersection first. If two vehicles arrive at the intersection simultaneously, the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right.

Yield at T-intersections

When you are entering a street from an alley, driveway or when you are at a T-intersection, you must yield to all cross traffic and pedestrians crossing the road.

Yield to Emergency Vehicles at Intersections

You must yield to all emergency vehicles (firefighters, police vehicles, ambulances) when they are displaying a flashing red or blue light and sounding a siren. You must pull over to the side of the road and stop. Do not proceed through the intersection until the emergency vehicle has passed. If you already entered the intersection, clear it before coming to a stop.

Yield to Pedestrians with White Canes

You must give way to blind pedestrians carrying a white cane. Slow down and be prepared to come a complete stop if you see a pedestrian carrying a white cane near the roadway.

Parking Near or At Intersections

Parking at Intersections is Forbidden

Parking within intersections is illegal. Most states require that you do not park within 20 feet of a crosswalk at an uncontrolled intersection. Some states have additional requirements that forbid parking within 30 feet of any flashing beacon, stop sign or traffic control signal located at the side of the road.

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Read next

Controlled Intersections
Driving Through Intersections 2 of 7

Controlled Intersections

An intersection is said to be “controlled” when access to the intersection is regulated by traffic signals or road signs, while access to an uncontrolled intersection is regulated only by the right-of-way rules. You must remember that traffic signals do not completely resolve traffic conflicts and you must learn to combine traffic signals and the right-of-way rules to avoid hazardous situations.

Uncontrolled Intersections
Driving Through Intersections 3 of 7

Uncontrolled Intersection

An uncontrolled intersection is one of the most common types of intersections out there. An uncontrolled intersection is a road intersection with no traffic light or road signs to indicate the right-of-way.

Roundabout Rules
Driving Through Intersections 4 of 7


A roundabout is an uncontrolled intersection or an intersection controlled by road signs where traffic moves counterclockwise around a central island. Access to the roundabout is usually controlled by YIELD signs that may be duplicated with additional yield line pavement markings.

Traffic Signals 6 of 6

Drawbridge Signals and Signs

Drawbridges are sometimes built across bodies of water which are frequented by marine traffic, such as fishing vessels and recreational boats. Signs, signals and other warning features are installed on drawbridges, to help keep pedestrians and motorists safe.

Pavement Markings 1 of 4

Pavement Markings

Like signs and signals, pavement markings communicate vital information to road users about what they must or must not do on a stretch of road. Every line, symbol, letter and block color painted on a road is there for a reason, though it may not be immediately obvious to the untrained eye.

Pavement Markings 2 of 4

Standard Road Markings

Most pavement markings you will encounter are painted lines, or patterns formed with painted lines. A great deal of information is held in these simple markings. Painted pavement lines are used to regulate traffic flow, define lanes, reinforce road signs or cordon off parts of the roadway which drivers must avoid.

Pavement Markings 3 of 4

Lettering and Symbols on the Road

Where road markings must impart very specific information, you will often encounter letters, words or symbols painted on the pavement. Pavement letters and symbols may be used to describe restrictions in a certain area, indicate lane use and warn road users about a hazard.

Pavement Markings 4 of 4

Parking Spaces and Colored Curbs

Parking spaces are usually partially or completely marked out with white lines, to help drivers position their vehicles. The markings allow the maximum number of vehicles to fit in a parking area while ensuring there is a safe space around each one.

People Directing Traffic 1 of 1

People Directing Traffic

Motorists may sometimes encounter authorized personnel directing traffic in place of road signs, signals and pavement markings. People who are authorized to direct traffic under such circumstances include police officers, construction workers, known as "flaggers", and crossing guards.