Don’t block the box!

By | October 14, 2005

Hi, boys and girls! It’s time for another exciting episode of

Driving etiquette that everybody should know, but most people don’t seem to!
Today’s episode is

Don’t block the box!
This episode is based on driving rule that’s so simple that it can be explained in a single sentence:

Don’t enter an intersection if there isn’t room for you on the other side.

You’ve all been on the losing end of this one, right? You’re sitting at a red light, waiting patiently, but when the light changes, you still can’t go, because the vehicles traveling in the cross-wise direction are blocking the intersection, and traffic is backed up so they can’t get out of it.

Blocking cross traffic isn’t only a bad idea. In most states, it’s illegal for a motor vehicle to enter an intersection if there isn’t sufficient room for the vehicle on the other side.

New York City waged a highly successful “Don’t block the box!” campaign in the 1980’s. The “box” is the square formed by the four corners of an intersection. NYC made the box obvious at a number of problem intersections by painting an outline and grid over the entire area. After an aggressive driver-education campaign, they sent the police out in force to issue citations to people who blocked the box, i.e., were caught in the intersection after their light turned red. These citations resulted in both a fine and license points, and people were cited even if the light was green when they entered the intersection.

Since then, “Don’t block the box!” campaigns have been initiated in a number of cities.

Let’s look at what a few states’ driver’s manuals have to say about this.

  • California: “Do not enter the intersection if you cannot get completely across before the light turns red. If you block the intersection, you can be cited.”
  • Ohio: “A driver must stop before entering an intersection if there is not sufficient space on the other side to accommodate the vehicle. The law applies whether or not a traffic signal gives a driver the right to proceed.”
  • Massachusetts: “If you are crossing an intersection, make sure you have enough room to make it completely through. Never block an intersection.”
  • New York: “You may not enter an intersection if traffic is backed up on the other side and you cannot get all the way through the intersection. Wait until traffic ahead clears, so you do not block the intersection.”

Don’t see your state? Visit “” (e.g., “”) and see what you can dig up, or send me email and I’ll add it.

Blocked intersections are a huge problem in Boston. Is it bad in other Massachusetts cities too? How about in cities in other states? Add a comment and let me know.

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5 thoughts on “Don’t block the box!

  1. Melodee Keirnan

    Great article. I agree with you completely, especially last words. Keep writing articles like this one.

  2. jik Post author

    Yeah, well, I’d rather not have to drive an hour to reach civilization.

  3. jik Post author

    I read it years ago, before I’d been driving in Boston for long enough to truly grok it. It seems like there are a lot of people who don’t understand that its contents are facetious :-).

  4. Elka

    Have you ever read The Boston Driver’s Handbook? Not the official one, the humorous one…


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