Highway departments place signs by the roadside in order to clarify what happens just ahead. People depend on signs, especially when they are in area they are not familiar with.
But unless the sign is carefully worded and placed, the sign itself can lead to serious accidents.
People understand STOP signs at intersections. After that, there are many opportunities for ambiguity. Google confusing street signs and you will get a taste of how absurd signage can be:
- An intersection with signs indicating 20 different state and county roads. You are almost guaranteed to be rear-ended while you try to make sense of all the numbers.
- Incompetently made signs. We see one that says RIGHT TURN MUST RIGHT LEFT.
- Bizarre situations, such as an intersection showing ONE WAY to the left, and another ONE WAY to the right. Sometimes signs flat-out contradict what the driver's GPS is telling them - which is another problem entirely.
- Vandalized signs. Signs can be taken down, knocked over, misplaced, replaced or stolen, usually by pranksters, not realizing the harm the prank can cost. Highway departments are not to blame for these events - unless they are slow in addressing the problem.
There are other reasons signs fail. Local geography can be confusing. City street layouts are often more complex than rural or small-town situations.
Rivers, steep upgrades, falling rocks and leaping deer are challenging problems for sign-makers.
There is a trend to using marquee signs over freeways, advising us of crashes ahead, Amber Alerts, and the number of fatalities so far this year. Our advice is to keep these communications to a minimum. You do not want to be killed because you were distracted by a sign about highway fatalities.
Highway departments do their best to meet four main needs:
- A good sign is simple and obvious.
- The sign must be necessary. Signs for signs' sake only adds to the clutter.
- The sign must command attention. They must be concise, visible, and placed in a logical place.
- The sign must give the driver time for respond properly.
A leading factor in wrong-way crashes is alcohol. But investigators say there is another important factor as well: confusing signage. What often happens is that a person unfamiliar with a divided highway turns left onto it - ensuring that they are driving toward oncoming traffic. Most drivers figure out right away they have made a mistake. Others are not so lucky. No alcohol is involved in this scenario.
We get many reports of signs in and around Erie County of signs contributing to injuries, some of them serious. If you or a loved one are hurt in such an accident, talk to us.