Happiness makes the world slow down

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. At the fork was a new stop sign. The view was clear up both forks, no traffic visible, but we were supposed to stop. Why?

The usual reason for an all-way stop in a sparsely populated area. To make residents happy.

The town’s engineer had approved an all-way stop in the name of safety and to slow traffic. He had seen the crash statistics showing the intersection was safe. He had seen the guidance that stop signs should not be used for speed control. Perhaps he had overlooked the state rule saying that’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. But he, residents, and town officials overwhelmingly said that the stop signs needed to stay for “safety”. Not safety, “safety”. They’re homonyms with much different meanings.

Go to public hearings and you’ll learn what safety-in-quotation-marks means. “Safety” is

… the thrill of pulling strings and making drivers dance.

… blaming crash victims for defying your will.

… having two traffic jams instead of one.

… getting your way.

… a smile from a resident who got her way.

… showing those know-nothings who made the rules who’s the boss.

… sending traffic past somebody else’s house.

… most of all, a feeling of comfort that can not be disproved with any amount of facts.

Massachusetts law says stop signs can be posted in response to real accidents, not imaginary accidents. “Safety,” as used in traffic committee meetings, is fundamentally an emotional state. Traffic regulation is supposed to be based on facts.

The town asked MassDOT if the mean old guy telling them they couldn’t have their shiny red toys was right. MassDOT said he was right. Town officials decided to keep the signs and “use all available lobbying efforts” to keep the state off their backs.

Removing illegal stop signs is a much different experience from not posting them in the first place. There’s a vested interest. I like the observation by comedian Louis C.K. in a viral video about unreliable internet on airplanes. “How quickly the world owes him something that he knew existed only 10 seconds ago.” Having got their nuisance stop signs the town was going to cling to them as if their lives depended on it, even the intersection had done fine without them for decades and unwarranted stop signs are much more likely to take a life than save one.

Ironically, but inevitably, I saw a bicyclist who was the supposed beneficiary of the new stop sign ride through without slowing. Maybe he didn’t know it was for him.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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One Response to “Happiness makes the world slow down”

  1. Tom McCarey says:

    If anyone in Pennsylvania knows a lawyer who will sue a municipality for illegal stop signs, call me (610) 687-7607. Thanks.

    Tom McCarey