A Short Stop Sign Cannot Be Enforced

Written by Gregory Monte.

In a blog post from last week, I proved that a stop sign that was shorter than the required minimum height could not be enforced in Ohio: Beating a Stop Sign Ticket in Ohio – A Technicality in the Law that WorksToday I will argue that this technicality also applies to most other states in the country.


The MUTCD is the Law of the Land

All states abide by some version of the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).  Here is what Section 2A.18 of the MUTCD says about stop sign height:

  • “the minimum height … of signs installed above sidewalks shall be 7 feet”
  • the minimum height … of signs installed at the side of the road in business, commercial or residential areas … shall be 7 feet”
  • “the minimum height … of signs installed at the side of the road in rural areas shall be 5 feet”

Notice that I underlined the words “shall be.”  The reason for this will be explained later when I cite case laws to support my claim that a short stop sign is not properly placed and so is not enforceable.


State Laws About Signs

When you combine the MUTCD requirements with actual state law, you will understand why short stop signs can’t be enforced.  I don’t provide a link to each and every state, but you can easily search Google to see if your motor vehicle code reads the same as these.

I will start with Ohio Motor Vehicle Code Section 4511.11 because that was the subject of my post from last week.  Here is how the statute reads:

No provision of this chapter for which signs are required shall be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official sign is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person.”


NOTE: “Proper position” can mean many things about how the sign was installed, but height is certainly one of them.


The next five statutes are written almost exactly the same as Ohio’s:

New York Section 1110(b)

No provision of this title for which signs are required shall be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official sign is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person.”

Hawaii Title 17 Section 291C-31(b)

No provision of this chapter for which signs are required shall be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official sign is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person.”

PA Title 75, Section 3111(b)

No provision of this title for which official traffic-control devices are required shall be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official device is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person.”

Florida Motor Vehicle Code Chapter 316, Section 074

No provision of this chapter for which official traffic control devices are required shall be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official device is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person.”

Oregon’s Chapter 810 Section 250 is only slightly different:

A person shall not be convicted of violating a provision of the vehicle code for which an official traffic control device is required if the device is not in proper position and legible to a reasonably observant person at the time and place of the alleged violation.”


What the Courts Say – Ohio

I cited an Ohio court case in last week’s post to prove that my interpretation was correct.  Here is the relevant quote:

“Because a stop sign is only enforceable when it is both legible and in a proper position, a motorist can escape punishment when the stop sign is not properly placed, notwithstanding the fact that it is still legible.”

To prove that the MUTCD and state laws on “proper position” of signs also applies to other states, I found several court cases besides this one from Ohio.  While they don’t all specifically refer to stop signs, the reasoning used by the courts would still apply.  If you are thinking about going to contest your ticket, you might need to cite cases like these to prove your innocence.


What the Courts Say – New York

People v. Brahms, 192 Misc. 2d 357 – NY: Appellate Term, 2nd Dept. 2002

“We find that the no-left-turn sign was not in proper position to be seen by an ordinarily observant person … and, thus, defendant’s guilt was not established beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the judgment is reversed …”


What the Courts Say – Pennsylvania

In the following Pennsylvania case, the appellant lost, but read carefully what the court specifically indicates about compliance with the MUTCD:

“Pilic offered no evidence that the sign [no left turn] was positioned improperly, other than reference to the MUTCD, which does not conclusively support his position that placement on the left is in any way problematic or illegal.”

Although Pilic did reference the MUTCD, he only relied on a section where the word “should” appeared rather than “shall.”

“The statements describing sign placement are all permissive, using the word ‘should,’ rather than mandatory, which is typically identified by the use of the word shall.’”

“Fortunately” for individuals who receive a stop sign ticket, the section of the MUTCD about stop sign height uses the word “shall.”  So, unlike Pilic’s situation where the No Left Turn sign can be either on the left or right-hand side of the road, a stop sign must be a minimum height.


What the Courts Say – Florida

The following case from Florida doesn’t mention the MUTCD by name, but the discussion is about the proper placement of the stop sign.

Joyner v. Anderson Columbia, Co., Inc., 988 So. 2d 60 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2008

Clearly, from the evidence presented, it could be inferred that the sign was broken, was too low, and was placed too far (18 feet) from the side of the road at the time of both accidents. It could also be inferred that the stop sign, being too low and too far, was not clearly visible … The trial court erred as a matter of law by granting summary judgment. The order granting summary judgment is REVERSED.”


Fighting Your Ticket Using This Technicality – Google Scholar

This blog post is not meant to be an exhaustive study of every state’s position on the proper placement of stop signs.  Instead, I offer the information to alert my readers to a potential technicality that they can use to fight their tickets.  The MUTCD and state statutes point to the fact that the height of a stop sign matters.  The court cases I cite imply that a sign that is too low is not enforceable because it is not properly placed.

If you are going to actually go to court and use this strategy, be aware that many lower traffic courts will not necessarily be aware of the statutes or the MUTCD.  Further, they may not agree with the way that I interpret them.  This is why you always need to have some cases ready to cite in order to back up this interpretation. 

If I haven’t provided a case relevant to your particular state, spend some time researching on Google Scholar.  Click to locate your state’s case law and then try various search terms to get cases that you can use.  Here are some possible search terms:

  • MUTCD
  • Stop Sign
  • Stop Sign Placement
  • Traffic Control Device
  • Traffic Control Device Placement

You can also try typing in your state’s actual section which refers to proper placement (i.e. PA Section 3111).

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