Talk is cheap

With traffic signs costing about as much as fancy toys, they get used like fancy toys.

When I see “RADAR ENFORCED” in California, I think “it’s safe to exceed this speed limit.” There’s no apparent correlation with actual use of radar, but they seem to be used more often where the speed limit is too low.

I grew up near a radar warning sign on a steep, winding road with no safe place for police to park. I never saw radar enforcement there, and I never saw any on the supposedly radar enforced street a few hundred feet from where I type this.

In Massachusetts, yellow “THICKLY SETTLED 30” signs mean the same thing: “it’s safe to go faster than 30.” If you really needed to slow down there would be a genuine speed limit sign with a lower speed. (Under a new law cities are allowed to post speed limit signs without any safety justification, so this trick will stop working.)

Economists talk about “signaling.”

Signaling is about the message you really send. The classic example, which won a third of the 2001 Nobel Prize, is a college degree. A degree doesn’t say “I understand Poisson brackets.” It says “I put was smart enough to pass my classes and determined enough to put four years of my life into college.”

That’s why a personalized letter to a policy maker is better than a form letter or mouse click. How much of your time are you willing to spend?

That’s why a traffic light is a more credible statement than a stop sign. Traffic lights cost about 1,000 times as much as stop signs. Most of the time, they were installed for a reason.

That’s why I want stop signs to be expensive. I proposed a tax on stop signs. Alternatively, we could require them to have overhead blinking red lights. A stop sign says there’s a cranky neighbor problem. A more expensive overhead blinker says there could be a safety problem.

“Strictly enforced” doesn’t mean anything, except somebody had $50 in the sign budget.

What if we changed the law so it was a binding promise? Give people a legal right to rely on the sign. If you get run over in a “strictly enforced” crosswalk the city owes you for its failure to live up to its promise. If you get a ticket for just a little over the limit you can tell the judge “but I wasn’t on a strictly enforced street.”

You might start to think, “this sign means something.”

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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