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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Obey the signs

As aids to drivers, traffic signs offer distinct, purposeful messages.  Although judging by the actions of many vehicle operators, including many I’ve seen this summer, certain signs are simply not read, read but not understood, or read and ignored.

Many scofflaws I’ve seen disregarding traffic signage lately are turning at NO TURN ON RED intersections during red-light indications.  NO TURN ON RED signs are placed by the Department of Transportation for specific reasons.  Because of high traffic count, line-of-sight restriction, 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 drivers I encountered thought they were above average — or above the law.

Or, giving him the benefit of doubt, maybe they did not seen the signs.  If so, that creates a reminder for all of us that we may miss something we’re not looking closely enough for.

Often, motorists have cut off or struck bicyclists or motorcyclists claiming they had not seen them.  But it’s most likely that they were looking mainly for cars and trucks, not bicycles or motorcycles.  As a result, the two-wheelers may have been physically seen but not cognitively acknowledged.  Similarly, because a driver may be so intent on being at a red-light intersection and making a “free” right turn, they are neither looking for nor mentally registering unexpected things, like a NO TURN ON RED sign.

Another scenario where signs may be unseen or cognitively missed is when new signs (especially 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.  With the proliferation of roundabouts, watch for signs warning of their presence — newly completed roundabouts can appear unexpectedly on a route that has changed since your last drive there.

A reader once sent photos from the town of Rathdrum showing signs there that clearly exhibited the words, “NO PASSING ON RIGHT.”  At the time, I figured those signs must have been erected since my last Rathdrum passing since I never recall seeing them.  But more likely, as I suggested earlier, I may have unknowingly seen them but failed cognitive acceptance.  Whatever the case, it’s a good lesson to me to take extra care to spot traffic exceptions within individual towns — I know that local law enforcement is very familiar with all their town’s traffic signage.

Such less-common signs can be the easiest to miss — other readers have confessed to never noticing the ones that I once wrote of in the town of Chewelah.  Like the NO TURN ON RED signs, the NO PASSING ON RIGHT signs are placed in response to a safety concern.  Controlling vehicle speed and organization helps people afoot deal with vehicular traffic at pedestrian crossings and vice versa.

Regarding the “did not see the sign” excuse — if the sign is actually not physically seen, distraction is the likely culprit.  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?  And when it comes to obeying LEFT LANE FOR PASSING ONLY signs — please don’t get me started.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.