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Friday, April 20, 2012

Traffic Enforcement: A tale of a stop sign

There is a stop sign I can see from my balcony. It’s not a very busy intersection, but there is a steady flow of traffic there during the day. It’s interesting to see how most drivers react to that stop sign. From my very unscientific analysis, I can tell you that about 50% of drivers come to a complete stop there and about 20% out of those even wait a second or two before they proceed. Another 40% or so do a “rolling stop”, so the car almost stops but the wheels actually never stop turning. Another 7% slow down significantly and the rest barely slow down.

Every three weeks or so, a traffic cop sets up just down the street to nab all the cars that don’t stop. He’s usually there for three or four hours and writes up a ticket every few minutes – pretty much as often as he can pull drivers over.

What is the purpose of this exercise? Nothing ever changes. The pattern remains the same. Local drivers know the spot and stop at the sign. Drivers unfamiliar with the neighborhood get nabbed. Is this done for safety reasons? The intersection is not particularly dangerous with good visibility in all directions and cars moving slowly.

Why don’t most drivers come to a complete stop? It’s very simple: The stop sign at our intersection is not really necessary. A yield sign would do. It’s not the drivers that are irrational, but our traffic management practices that are. The cop that comes around to harass people will not change a thing, except collect fines and increase insurance premiums.

And one more thing: With the proliferation of stop signs everywhere, people can’t really tell which intersections are dangerous and which aren’t. Safety indeed.     

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