The Problem with Stop Signs

Written by Gregory Monte.

“What Harm Can Arise From Unnecessary Stops?”

City of Nacogdoches, Texas – Stop Sign Brochure

Wait a minute … aren’t stop signs a good thing?  Aren’t they installed in order to protect motorists from other drivers?  Why on earth would this question even need be asked?


The “Traffic Law Nazis

Every so often I get negative feedback on Facebook from individuals who I call “Traffic Law Nazis.” These are people who claim to obey every single traffic law because it is … well .. the law. This post is dedicated to them. When I try to explain to them why many drivers don’t religiously follow speed limits and why most occasional roll through a stop sign, here is the kind of response I get:

Jerry Finnegan“Traffic tickets are issued because people violate the rules of the road. The rules of the road are set to protect the users of public roads.”

DennisWilma “You do the crime you do the time!”

Walter Schwartz If you get a ticket you probably deserve it pay it and don’t drive like an idiot.”

Terry Utter a stop sign means you stop. Doesn’t matter if no one’s around. It’s not a yield. Full stop, every time. Just because you don’t see someone else doesn’t mean they’re not there.”

David Smith Best defense ever? Come to a full stop 🛑 bonehead!!🙄 Tired of dodging your stupid antics!🤦🏼‍♂️”

Tom Shaner  a stop sign is a stop sign no matter where you are at just like a yield sign should be obeyed.”

Bill Wereb Why don’t you just stop? Diptard”

Dale Gilbert and to think if you just pressed on that pad just for a second you wouldn’t have to try to beat a traffic ticket and the world would be a safer place.😂”

Will an official brochure from the city of Nacogdoches, Texas or any of the other documents I cite in the remainder of this post change the minds of the “Traffic Law Nazis” when it comes to religiously obeying stop signs and other traffic control devices?

Doubtful, but I will give it a shot.


Stop Signs are not for Speed Control

Too often, local communities install stop signs for the wrong reasons.  If you drive through a town and every other intersection has a 4-way stop sign, you can bet that they were put there for the purpose of slowing down traffic rather than for legitimate traffic control.

The Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control (MUTCD) is very clear on this point.  Section 2B.04.05 states:

“YIELD or STOP signs should not be used for speed control.


Back to Texas

The reason why the city of Nacogdoches asked the question which I quoted at the start of this blog post was because they realized that stop signs can actually create dangerous situations when improperly placed.

But what harm can arise from unnecessary stops when unwarranted stop signs are installed?

  1. Overuse of stop signs reduces their effectiveness because drivers tend to speed up between stop sign controlled intersections rather than slow down … that can turn a quiet neighborhood into a race track.
  2. Stop compliance is poor at unwarranted multi-way stop signs. Studies have determined that drivers see little reason to stop and yield the right-of-way when there is no traffic on the minor street. Unwarranted stop signs foster disrespect and disregard of the law.
  3. Studies have found that pedestrian safety, particularly small children, is decreased at unwarranted multi-way stop sign locations. Pedestrians expect vehicles to stop at the stop signs but many vehicles “run” the unnecessary stop sign.

Other States

Texas isn’t the only state that acknowledges problems with stop signs.  While I don’t provide a comprehensive accounting of all of the states here, because they have all adopted the Federal MUTCD, you can bet that they have a similar take on this issue.

New York

“Stop signs should be used to control traffic flow, not traffic speed … Studies made in many parts of the country show that there is a high incidence of intentional violations where stop signs are installed as ‘nuisances’ or “speed breakers.’ While speed is reduced in the immediate vicinity of the ‘nuisance’ stop signs, speeds are actually higher between intersections than they would have been if those signs had not been installed.”

Pennsylvania

STOP signs are one of the most common traffic signs and also one of the most often misused. A STOP sign is intended to assign right-of-way at intersecting street locations; however, they are often misused to address speeding concerns.”

California

A STOP (R1-1) sign is not a ‘cure-all’ and is not a substitute for other traffic control devices. Often, the need for a STOP (R1-1) sign can be eliminated if the sight distance is increased by removing obstructions.”

San Mateo, California

Because inappropriate use of stop signs can dramatically and negatively change the function of a roadway, we carefully review each request and approve for appropriate uses. Stop signs are not a universal solution for traffic concerns. They are an effective traffic management tool when carefully placed. Overuse, as well as underuse, of stop signs, can create unsafe conditions.”

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