Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

At the risk of appearing ancient, I’ll admit that the 1971 hit song “Signs” came to mind the other day as I drove east on 29th Avenue.  When I approached a green light at the intersection with Perry Street, a vehicle going north on Perry made a rolling “stop” and rushed to make a right turn and enter 29th ahead of me.  Even though he rolled through the stop and stabbed the gas mightily, I still had to brake to allow his passage.

That sort of erratic driving behavior by itself could be expected, since so many drivers are in a false hurry and try to be “first in line.”  But it was less expected this time, since I’m aware of a sign reading, “NO TURN ON RED” facing drivers coming from his position on Perry, and expected him to stop and remain stopped.

Maybe too many drivers are reflecting the sentiment expressed in the lyrics sung by that one-hit-wonder Canadian rock group, “Five Man Electrical Band.”  Within the lyrics, phrases such as, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind,” make a mockery of the presence and abundance of signs.

For traffic direction, however, signage has a safety purpose.  Although judging by the actions of many drivers, including the one I just crossed paths with at 29th and Perry, they are not read, read but not understood, or read and blatantly disregarded.

NO TURN ON RED signs are placed by the Department of Transportation for specific reasons.  Because of high traffic count, lack of visibility, or both, it is deemed by the DOT that the average driver should simply wait for the red traffic light indication to become green before turning right, for safety reasons.  Maybe the driver I encountered was above average — he was certainly above the law.

Or, giving him the benefit of doubt, he may have not seen the sign.  If so, that creates a reminder for all of us that we may miss what we’re not looking for.  Often, motorists have cut off or struck bicyclists or motorcyclists claiming they had not seen them.

But what probably happened was that they were looking for cars and trucks, not bicycles or motorcycles.  As a result, the two-wheelers may have been seen but were not mentally acknowledged.  Similarly, a driver may be so intent on seeing the red light and making their “free” right turn, they are neither looking for nor mentally registering traffic signs in the vicinity.

Another scenario where signs may be unseen or cognitively missed is when new signs (even stop signs) appear on familiar routes  Train yourself to be vigilant for new or unusual sightings at all times, especially within your oft-travelled locations.

A discussion here two weeks ago revolved around signs that exist in the towns of Chewelah and Rathdrum disallowing passing on the right.  Reader G.C. even sent photos from Rathdrum of signs that clearly exhibit the words, “NO PASSING ON RIGHT.”

Maybe those signs have been erected since my last pass through Rathdrum, but I must admit I have never seen them.  Or as I suggested earlier, I may have unknowingly seen them but not mentally acknowledged them.  Whatever the case, it’s a good lesson to me to take extra care to spot traffic exceptions within individual towns — I can thank G.C. for the reminder, since he says that the police regularly supply drivers who don’t heed the signs with their very own traffic citations.

Such uncommon signs are evidently easy to miss, as I received emails from readers also confessing to never noticing the ones that I and reader S.R. reported appearing in Chewelah.  Like the NO TURN ON RED signs, the NO PASSING ON RIGHT signs are placed in response to a safety concern.

The many driver distractions available both outside and inside of your vehicle have been well documented in this column and elsewhere.  Isn’t it our duty as responsible drivers to avoid being victims of those distractions and reserve at least enough attention to notice, read and heed traffic signs?  I’m sure we all have room for improvement.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at