The three second rule

So, here’s the scenario:
I stop someone for running a stop sign. I ask the driver if they know why I stopped them. They say, “Because I didn’t stop for three seconds?” Huh?

Can someone explain this to me? I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, either in court or on a traffic stop that they didn’t stop long enough and they tend to use the ‘three second rule’. Where in the hell does it say in the CVC that there is any kind of requirement for how long you have to stop? What’s that? There isn’t one? Right. Refer back to the Stop post.

So, where do people think this originates from?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

16 thoughts on “The three second rule

  1. I remember hearing it in high school – from friends, not a driver's ed instructor – and never really thought to question it until this very moment. I don't tend to count the seconds at a stop sign (I also don't tend to blow past 'em, so I've never had to offer that explanation to an officer at a traffic stop), but if part of the test to get my license renewed included a question about how long I had to stop at a stop sign, I'd have gone with three seconds because that's what Marc Stephens told me when I was fifteen.


  2. I had a guy ask me in court a few weeks ago "So, how long do I have to stop for you not to write me a ticket? Three seconds?"

    My reply was "Well, sir, first of all, all I require is that you come to a COMPLETE stop, not a "rolling stop" as you did. Eight to ten miles per hour is not a stop. Secondly, even if you did stop for three seconds, then you proceeded when it was not safe to do so, I'd still write you a ticket."

    I'm gonna find you, uhhh, guilty.

  3. The 3 second rule for stopping is like the 9 finger rule in goalkeeping. Allow me to take you on a trip.

    In soccer, as a goalkeeper, we are afforded the ability to control the ball with our hands. The definition of "control" can vary from one official to the next, but it can be agreed that one hand on a ball is not control, 2 is.
    So we had a "9 finger rule." The point being that if you can get 9 fingers to the ball, you might as well do 10 and have total control. Double point being "Just use two hands and be sure you have control."

    If you do a three count at a complete stop you have time to not only come to the complete stop, but 3 seconds to see if it is safe.
    Count to three after you stop and you'll never roll through a sign or light.

    Try it, it works. It is not the law, but it helps you stop properly.

    Another rambling analogy from your Happy Medic. Free of charge. As usual.

  4. Stopped one night by a State Trooper after crossing a four way stop intersection. He said he knew I stopped because he saw my headlights bob up and down. However, I stopped only for a "millisecond", that wasn't safe, and I needed at least three seconds to make sure the intersection was clear. With a cracked windashield and a hole in my muffler, I didn't argue. Law or not, three seconds is now what I use.

  5. I generally employ the 5 second rule… like when I drop your steak I was cooking on the BBQ… If I can pick it up and put it back on the grill or plate with in the allotted 5 seconds, it all good. Of course, if you saw me drop your steak, then the exclusionary rule comes into play. Now sometimes we have to abbreviate the 5 second rule, because the dog can cover the back yard in 2.34 seconds, especially when she hears the "thwap" of that juicy steak smaking the deck. Most likely though, she is nearby, so the 5 second rule works better for the ice cubes I dropped in the kitchen and then put in your drink… see, I can make up rules regarding seconds… Officer

  6. Maybe they are thinking about how long they can wait and still eat that twinkie they dropped on the floor board!!

    Oh, and Mythbusters already debunked that one……

    Now you have debunked another "3 Second rule"!!!

    Keep up the good work!! 😉

  7. I was slower then three seconds to post. The dispatcher beat me to it, I was going to say the only three second rule I know of, is when you drop food on the floor.

    I guess coming to a stop, returning all your texts and then going is going to be the new rule?

  8. What I was taught in driver's ed is to stop, do the left-right-left check and then, if it was safe and there was nothing else to preclude it (say, oncoming traffic, people already waiting their turn at a four-way), we could go. No seconds explained, but I'd say to do a good job of stopping and looking for hazards takes at least three seconds.

    I will agree that much of driving is necessarily automated. This does not, however, preclude good driving. I'm starting to think that I must have had an uncommonly good driver's ed course, because we were taught little things like being aware of our surroundings at all times and that paying attention is vital.

  9. Up here in the great white north, it takes 3 seconds for the 'whoa!' yelled at your sled dogs to reach the lead dog's ears and be processed in his brain.

    Wait…that doesn't sound right…

    Nope, never heard of this 3 second rule when I learned to drive. (Then again, it may take 3 seconds of skidding on ice to stop sometimes. Kidding, kidding.)

  10. I use the 10 second rule for food dropped on the floor. . .

    As for the 3 second rule at stop signs, I TOTALLY learned it in drivers ed 15 years ago. I'm sure of it!

  11. Will you come over to our town? And patrol the four way stop by the park?!?!

    We were eating a "pic-a-nic" lunch at the park today and in light of your post, I thought I'd check out how the stopping worked at the **four way stop sign** intersection next to the park WITHOUT A FENCE where the *little kids* play.

    Out of the 15 cars I counted through the intersection in less than 5 minutes, ONE of them came to a complete stop. ONE! I stopped counting after that.

    Oh, and the guy behind me who was "following" me through three stop signs on the way to the park today? He came to a complete stop behind me (because I did) at each intersection and then drove right through them after me. I guess there's some double limit line rule that I'm not aware of?!?! Gotta love that.

  12. During my driving test (in Missouri) I was told I must stop for three seconds or it wasn't a complete stop. Even now, I find myself slowly counting "1….2….3…" before I go.

  13. I think most people are confusing the numbers they learned in Driver's Ed. Currently Allstate has a commercial speaking of the "2-second rule" which refers to a following distance. I learned the 3-second rule in regard to following distance. In short, you should pick a stationary object, begin counting when the car in front of you passes it, and if you pass the object before you can count to three, you are following too closely. I imagine people remember the unique term "3-second rule" but can't quite remember how to apply it.

  14. I’m just a teensy bit late to the party on this one (2.75 years isn’t that late, right?), but having gone through drivers ed., getting my learner’s permit, etc. just a few years back, I can definitely tell you that my driver’s ed. instructor taught us the 3-second rule. It was likely more of a way to get dangerous drivers who think they’re invincible (I was nearly turned into a hood ornament by someone who thought they could text and drive. Luckily the one who wasn’t in the 4000 pound screaming metal deathtrap was paying attention and got the hell out of the way. But I digress. I doubt any actual law exists in Maryland that makes the 3 second rule.

    • The 3-second rule is a good rule of thumb…but it isn’t the law (at least not in CA…and I’m guessing most states).

      And welcome to the party, Chris!

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