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Have Stop Signs Become Just a Suggestion?

In West Vancouver, the south-west corner of the block on which sits a ‘hub’ supermarket in central Ambleside is a T-intersection with pedestrian crossings on all three branches of the ‘T’, each with a stop sign.  The stop sign beside the west crosswalk has been decorated with flowers for almost a year.  When the flowers dry out they are replaced, but this remembrance site is now one big bouquet.

We are told that a beloved, long-time West Vancouver resident, who crossed every day with her dog was killed at the intersection when an elderly driver ‘blew’ through the stop sign, perhaps completely without seeing it.  Perhaps the victim had checked before crossing.  All it takes is a moment, though, a surprise, something extraordinary – a car that would be expected to stop, just kept rolling.

Not stopping at stop signs for whatever reason may no longer be extraordinary.  It may even be a ‘new normal.’  A local north shore newspaper last week included in its “Grinding Gears” column the following about his regular walk with his daughter to her school during which they cross two four-way stop intersections: “I have been making this walk for several years, and I would like to report that the number [of people who come to a complete stop at the stop signs] is now up to a grand total of five.”

Road Rules has even written about Canadian jurisdictions that removed stop signs because too many drivers ignoring them was creating an obvious safety hazard.  You might want to investigate this yourself.  Spend just five to ten minutes focusing on the driving activity around a stop sign intersection in your neighborhood.  Road Rules welcomes your report.

The apparent rise in drivers failing to obey stop signs was explored in a May 2010 essay in Slate magazine as follows: “it is a “minor indicator, among many, of a larger societal shift: a decline of civility and reciprocity, a lesser willingness to follow social rules… [in a] society marked by increased self-regard (and hence less regard for others), …[with] neither the inclination nor the situational awareness required to accommodate others, whether by signaling one’s intentions, stopping for pedestrians in a crosswalk, or heeding the familiar red octagon.”

Of course, there are other explanations: we are always in a hurry, distracted by too many in-car devices and outside attention-grabbers. The sightlines along our well-maintained roads are clear: “We can clearly see that it is safe to proceed without the bother of stopping.”

Clearly, though, the law hasn’t changed: drivers must come to a full stop at a stop sign.  This permits singular focus on the intersection activity and the pattern forming up for legal and safe execution of the four-way or two-way stop procedure.  But if not stopping, intentionally or otherwise, is now standard behavior, safety at stop sign intersections must be all about defensive walking, cycling, and driving behaviors: making eye contact; not making assumptions; not stepping in front of oncoming moving vehicles.

The lesson:  Taking for granted that your fellow road users will comply with basic road rules seems increasingly perilous.  Best not to. 

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