Should drivers assume it's now OK to drive recklessly? Do police stop enforcing
safety regulations beyond that point?
On I-495 near Silver Spring, Md., a sign reads: DUI Enforcement Area. Really?
I’ve been driving under the assumption that every foot of roadway in America
is a DUI Enforcement Area.
With so many motorists distracted nowadays by personal electronic gadgets – plus,
of course, arguing with their spouses, fielding the kids' questions, eating,
applying makeup, etc. – the last thing we need is signage that persons
of reasonable intelligence can't understand. Worse, we don't need information
that we're powerless to do anything about.
On the Massachusetts Turnpike near Westover AFB in Chicopee, there are signs
saying: Caution Low-Flying Aircraft. I don't recall any tips in the drivers'
manual about avoiding airplanes. It would make just as much sense to post a warning
about periodic meteor showers. Besides, if a plane is so low that it threatens
a five-foot high Pontiac then it's probably a little late for a written warning.
This spring Massachusetts replaced thousands of highway signs at a reported
cost of $22 million, prompting some to wonder if such an expenditure at this
point is, itself, a bad sign in terms of fiscal mismanagement.
On the highway heading to Freehold, N.J., I saw a permanent sign that said:
Trees Sprayed with Noxious Spray. Aside from the fact that the sign maker apparently
had a tough time finding a synonym for "spray" ("treated" might
have worked), what are motorists to do? Turn back? Hold their breath? For how
Many highway signs are of little or no value to the driving public, but are
posted for convoluted legal purposes so that government agencies can avoid culpability.
I suppose when sued over the noxious sprays in New Jersey, government can say, "Well,
we warned you." The same is true with the Highway Safety Corridor. Apparently
it's an area in which traffic fines are doubled – and there's a legal reason
to notify motorists that they’ve reached the end of that section.
Across Maryland, troubling signs of the times are posted on giant electronic
boards. They give an 800 phone number and advise: Report Suspicious Activity.
What’s that about? Should I report the guy who just cut in front of me
at 90 mph? Or by “suspicious” do they mean, say, Arab-looking motorists
who might have a package in the trunk that could be a bomb?
These digital, or “smart” highway signs are sometimes pretty dumb.
On the New Jersey Turnpike – as in several states – electronic speed
signs are left blank when there are no dangerous conditions. On such occasions
the signs say SPEED LIMIT with no numbers posted, leaving motorists confused
about what the proper speed really is. In some states the electric signs have
resulted in varying speeds being posted in different lanes on the same highway.
Apparently the sign situation is so frustrating that a few motorists feel
the need to inject comic relief. In Greenville, Del., last month the computer
for an electric highway sign was hacked and the message changed to: Live Nudes
In Maryland, there’s a highway overpass with the sign: Brooklyn Bridge
Road. Someone with spray paint and a sense of humor added: 4 Sale.
And what’s ahead? A headline in the Albany, N.Y., Times Union warns: “Confusing
road signs about to hit the highway.”
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.