State laws governing stop signs are fairly simple. However, stop sign laws are among the most common that police cite drivers for violating. This article outlines the requirements of stop sign laws—including how the rules apply in some unique situations—and the possible penalties for stop sign violations.
The laws that apply to traffic signals differ somewhat by state. However, stop sign laws generally don't vary from state to state.
Stopping requirements. Generally, a vehicle approaching a stop sign must stop behind the stop line or pedestrian crosswalk. If neither of these is present, the driver can approach the intersection in order to gain a full view of crossing traffic but must stop before actually entering the intersection. Regardless of whether there are any other cars, drivers must come to a complete stop at stop signs. Lots of drivers get tickets for slowing down but not coming to a full stop at stop signs. Drivers can also be cited for stopping only after crossing a limit line, crosswalk, or into the intersection.
Proceeding through the intersection. Drivers can proceed into an intersection after stopping for a stop sign only when it is safe to do so. The vehicle with the stop sign must yield to any other vehicles or pedestrians within the intersection and approaching vehicles that don't have a stop sign. So, even where the driver makes a complete stop, it's still possible to get a ticket for not properly yielding to other vehicles or pedestrians.
Four-way stops. At a four-way stop, each driver faces a stop sign. Generally, the order of operations is based on who arrives first to the intersection. In other words, the driver of the first vehicle to stop at the intersection is the first to proceed and so on. If two vehicles arrive and come to a stop at the same time, the vehicle on the left is typically required to yield to the vehicle to the right. However, drivers that are going in opposite directions can normally go at the same time because they aren't crossing paths.
Flashing red lights. When a traffic light or signal is flashing red, it generally has the same effect as a stop sign. However, a flashing red light at a railroad crossing is different and does not permit crossing.
Generally, stop sign laws contain a few exceptions. Police cars and ambulances are typically permitted to pass through a stop sign in emergencies. Additionally, drivers who are directed by a police officer can go through a stop sign without fear of getting a citation.
Stop signs are everywhere, including in private parking lots and parking garages. Drivers cited for running stop signs in these types of places have sometimes been successful in arguing police lack jurisdiction to enforce stop signs on private property. However, your likelihood of beating a stop sign ticket based on this type of argument depends on the circumstances and the specific laws of your state.
Infractions. Failing to properly stop at a stop sign is generally a traffic infraction and, in most states, carries a fine of $75 to $300. Sometimes, the fines are higher for violations where pedestrians were present. Stop signs tickets are typically considered moving violations, so the driver might also be looking at demerit points on his or her record.
Misdemeanors. A few states charge stop sign violations as misdemeanors. Misdemeanors often carry possible jail time in addition to fines. However, it is quite uncommon for judges to order jail time for stop sign violations.
Traffic school option. In many states, a driver can avoid some or all of the penalties of a stop sign ticket by completing traffic school.