Traffic Scofflaws Rejoice

By Al Rodbell

Yes, I'm talking to you- those who probably this very day were guilty of an infraction of the California Code that requires coming to a full stop at every stop sign, even those four way signs where the cross street gets a car or a pedestrian every few minutes at most.

You may have slowed down to a few feet a second, scanned both directions safely, but as long as those wheels are turning, according to the law it is exactly the same as going through the intersection at full speed.

About a year ago when some people in my neighborhood suggested that they were going to propose another stop sign on the road along the wide greenbelt that is the delight of residents of Village Park, I decided to do a bit of research. I presented my findings to the Encintas City Council, that the results of dozens of studies show that inappropriate multi way stop signs, far from preventing accidents, actually increase them.

It's really not that hard to understand, as good drivers actually have their attention diverted, not by looking for cars or children who could dash into the intersection, but for the police car that might need another ticket to top off his day. To make it worse they often make up lost time by speeding up between stop signs, rather than driving at a steady safe speed all along the corridor.

My arguments about the deeper “moral hazard” of turning law abiding citizens into law breakers fell on deaf ears. Inertia is a powerful force- whether in multilevel systems of government, like those that determine traffic regulations, or the amount of force converted to heat required to bring a two ton vehicle to a full stop. And herein lies the hope for us law abiding scofflaws who commit the routine crime of performing “California Rolling Stops.” It is copper. The element that happens make up as much as twenty five percent of brake linings.

Copper is just fine as we normally use it, as wires in our homes and in the pots of upscale cookery. But when heated to high temperatures during braking there are problems, as a recent editorial in the Union Tribune stated, “ Copper is Toxic. As motorists use their brakes, copper dust is released and settles into roadways... to be washed into storm sewers and roadways. It destroys marine life, plants and animals”

The editorial does not suggest ways of lessen the use of brakes, but approves of a law to require less copper in them, even though they acknowledge that “not enough is known about the potential environmental hazards from replacement materials.”

Multi way stop signs, although shown to be worse than useless, are a product of bureaucratic inertia. (need I mention it also being a sweet piggy bank for cash strapped local government?) The energy required to change public perception has been too great, but now there is a new force, that of the conservation movement, those of us who care about the environment that provides a home for all the flora and fauna of our world... which just happens to include us.

Unlike traffic lights, which are the best way to regulate two major arteries that cross at an intersection, multi-way stop signs have long been known to be subject to political pressure, and defective in many ways. Now there is a new element. Beyond the waste of millions of gallons each year in starting those cars from a full stop, we have the biological hazard of a toxic material being added to the food chain with each unwarranted stop.

In a world full of intractable problems, this one is amazingly simple to correct. It's as easy as changing few words in the California code, or the replacement of most four way signs with Yield signs. But Inertia is a powerful force of nature. So while we are waiting for the law to be changed, remember those tickets for rolling stops are expensive, and quoting this article probably won't get you off.

Al Rodbell
June 22, 2010
This is the link to the survey of the literature on multiway stop signs mentioned above:
Comments can be made here or on The Coast News article of June 25, 2010

The following comment was made to the discussion forum of the Dept of Transportation:

This problem of unwarranted multi-way stop signs must be conceptualized differently once the inappropriate signs have been in place, as opposed to deciding whether to implement them. Most of the problem intersections would be warranted as 1-2 way stop signs, yet over the years due to political pressure they were made multi-way.

I've explored Gary Lauder's proposed TT sign, and it seems preferable to use existing signage. Here's the dilemma. Since rolling stops are the norm, those with a full stop sign on the secondary street will not notice that the little-"all way" is missing from the bottom. So, they will now roll through as they have been all along. Those on the primary street, if we did this correctly, will not slow down at all. This is a potential danger, only because of the original error.

Yield signs on the primary road would seem appropriate, along with regular stop signs on the secondary road. In California the yield sign seems to turn into a TT when vehicles are lined up on the secondary road as described here on Cal DMV site:
Yield Signs: Intersections

21803. (a) The driver of any vehicle approaching any intersection which is controlled by a yield right-of-way sign shall, upon arriving at the sign, yield the right-of-way to any vehicles which have entered the intersection, or which are approaching on the intersecting highway close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to those vehicles until he or she can proceed with reasonable safety.

(b) A driver having yielded as prescribed in subdivision (a) may proceed to enter the intersection, and the drivers of all other approaching vehicles shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle entering or crossing the intersection.
Amended Ch. 623, Stats. 1988. Effective January 1, 1989.
Part b, would seem to dictate a taking turns, as Lauder's TT sign proposes, without the need for new signage.

I welcome comments

It would seem that Yield signs on the primary road, matched with stop signs on secondary road would be acceptable, based on this from the California DMV
Traffic Signs

An eight-sided red STOP sign means you must make a full “STOP” whenever you see a STOP sign. Stop before entering a crosswalk or at a white limit line which is a wide white line painted on the street. If a crosswalk or limit line is not painted on the street, stop at the corner.

A three-sided red YIELD sign means you must slow down and be ready to stop, if necessary, to let any vehicle, bicyclist, or pedestrian pass before you proceed.