Stop With the Stop Signs

Cotton Woolling is a term many apply to the government’s attempts to protect people from themselves and careless, greedy and selfish idiots in society. The Stop Sign is just a big red octagonal piece of cotton wool that serves no purpose other than to insult the intelligence of the experienced driver.

Stop SignLet’s take a look at the purpose of a stop sign. You must come to a complete stop at the intersection and give way to all traffic prior to moving into the intersection. Why stop? The bottom line is that we must give way to other vehicles so they don’t hit us and scratch our paint. Just a moment… apparently the possibility of causing  serious injury to the occupants of either vehicle ranks pretty highly as well.

Okay, so the bottom line is safety. Obviously. What’s so unsafe about just giving way? How does coming to a complete stop actually make giving way safer?

Stop signs are usually found where visibility is reduced, such as on bends or near the crests of hills.  Wouldn’t the average brain-bearing driver approach the intersection and decide for himself whether it is safe to enter the intersection or that stopping would be a good idea? That is obviously a naive question because the road toll figures in any country would suggest many drivers forget to take their brains with them. Many of us walk out the door forgetting our keys. This is fully understandable and relatively harmless. The difference is we’ll go back and get our keys.

Most people I see on the roads won’t stop if there’s nothing coming and I don’t blame them. It’s a waste. But they do approach slowly and carefully enough so they can stop if necessary, and that is the point. That’s called giving way. That’s the key issue here. Coming to a complete, unnecessary stop is just a superficial hoop we must jump through to please the lawmakers.

What if two cars collide at an intersection with a stop sign? It may be obvious one car didn’t give way but can anyone say he didn’t come to a complete stop? I doubt it. So the driver is unlikely to be charged with failing to stop at a stop sign. He’ll just cop the fail to give way. So what’s the point of it? It’s too difficult to enforce.

Now, having said all that, you might have noticed I said “Experience Driver” up the top. When I started teaching my son to drive I told him to treat every give way sign as a stop sign. Coming to a complete stop has merits for the inexperienced because they are still learning about stopping distances and reactions times and “getting the feel”, etc. In Victoria, Australia, leaner drivers must accumulate 120 hours of supervised driving before attempting a license test (this probably applies elsewhere, too, because I doubt we are innovative in this department). Once they pass the test they are on a Probationary License for a while. Perhaps during this time they should always completely stop at give ways signs. But enforcing this is just as hard as enforcing the normal Stop Sign rules. Maybe encouraging it as a good habit for the noobie drivers is not a bad idea.

And in the meantime, let’s stop with the cotton wool that is the Stop Sign and focus on the real issue: Gaining experience Giving Way.

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4 thoughts on “Stop With the Stop Signs

  1. ericjbaker

    Do you have the four-way stops there? We have intersections in which every driver has to stop, and these set-ups are typically found on roads with light traffic. They recently put one in near me. I’ve been driving through that intersection nearly every day for five years and have never seen a traffic jam, an accident, or otherwise any indicator of the need for 4 stop signs. Meanwhile, those potholes that have gone un-repaired….

    Reply
    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      I don’t know of any 4-way stops in Australia at all. That’s some serious cotton wool! I guess it would be hard to resolve the confusion in the unlikely but possible situation when 4 cars pull up exactly the same time, pause, and all decide to go. At the same time! There would be much shouting and gesturing through windows. “You go”, “No, you go”, “Ok, I’ll go”. And then they all go…
      At least here there’s always two tiers of road at any intersection. One always has priority while the other has to wait. No confusion. At least until some fool doesn’t play by the rules.

      Reply
  2. Rita Azar

    An interesting perspective Richard. When I started to drive in Australia, I wasn’t sure what to do at give way signs. In Canada, give way signs are mainly situated only when you have to get into a highway or when two lines merge together. I think it’s confusing to have both stop signs and give way signs in small streets.

    Reply
    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      We take the Give Way rule for granted, I think, although different people interpret it in different ways. It ranges from those who think it means only wait for anyone who would have to slam the brakes and swerve to avoid hitting you as you pull out, to those who wait for a car on the distant horizon to go by. A good rule is to wait for anyone who would have to change their speed if you did pull out.
      The single and only difference with a stop sign is that you must completely stop and not crawl along at a snail’s pace with your foot resting on the brake pedal. Instant fail in a license test if you don’t stop at a stop sign.
      Confusing with GW and Stop signs everywhere? It would be more confusing with no signs, I think!
      Safety is one thing but traffic management is quite another and just as important.

      Reply

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