Four-way stops aren’t always the best answer

Published 5:23 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2021

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After 50-plus years of being a licensed driver, I’ve witnessed all sorts of stupidity on the roads. I’ve found myself on more than one occasion screaming, “Hey, bud, how did you get your license?”

There are many drivers out there who need to turn in their license. For starters, they simply do not understand the very basis rules of the road, especially which vehicle has the right-of-way when two or more are at the same intersection at the same time.

Then there is the physics aspect of driving….the time vs. distance portion of the equation. If I’m traveling in my vehicle at a speed of 55 mph and you decide to leave your driveway, or an adjoining road (from a dead stop), and enter my lane of travel, please keep in mind that I’m moving at a clip of 80 feet per second.

With that in mind, at 55 mph, on a dry road with good brakes, should you pull abruptly into my path, I will jam my brakes and will skid approximately 170 feet before coming to a stop. This distance, combined with the perception and reaction times, means I need about 300 feet to fully stop.

In other words, when my vehicle crashes into the rear of yours, don’t act innocent!

So, what does bad driving have to do with the real reason I’m offering these thoughts? I’m upset that the North Carolina Department of Transportation failed to solicit the opinions of local drivers that travel daily on one particular road before NCDOT changed a traffic pattern.

A new four-way stop was put in place late last week at the intersection of NC 561, NC 461, and the St. John-Menola Road in the heart of the St. John community.

I searched my email more than once to see if NCDOT sent me an advance notice of what was to come there. I’m on their email list…..I typically receive notices, sometimes weeks in advance, of a road closure due to a culvert repair or for a bridge replacement.

I wasn’t notified of the plan to erect a four-way stop at the aforementioned intersection. NCDOT erected warning signs on either Tuesday or Wednesday, but they were turned at an angle that no one was able to read…and an electronic message board was blank. Those signs became readable on Thursday at which time the new “traffic pattern” began.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in the surprise. I spoke with a couple of high-ranking Hertford County local government officials on Friday and they said they were not contacted in advance. One – the county’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer – went as far as to say he wasn’t asked his opinion of whether or not the four-way stop was needed there.

I’ll admit there is a definite “sight vision” issue at that particular intersection. That is due to the curve coming into St. John from Menola. There’s woods on both sides of the curve, and once those trees are no longer blocking a driver’s vision, they are less than 50 feet from the NC 561/NC 461 intersection. If a vehicle is turning westbound on NC 561 or wants to access NC 461 from 561 (or vice-versa), they are vulnerable to traffic coming in from Menola.

I travel that route to and from work each and every day and I’ve had a few “close calls” there over the years. However, I choose to slow my speed to 35 mph in that blind curve, which leads to a shorter distance to come to a quick stop if the need arises.

My question to NCDOT is were there other options explored other than a four-way stop? I’ve always believed that purchasing that little strip of woods on the left coming into St. John from Menola would drastically improve the sight issue at that intersection. It would also make sense to lower the speed limit to 35 mph within 300 feet on all sides of that intersection.

DOT is not to blame for the highly questionable maneuvers made by drivers who think the roads were built only for their convenience.

Moving forward, I would suggest NCDOT gain the opinion of the motoring public and from local officials as they devise ways to make our roads safer.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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