Posted by: safedriver | August 7, 2012

Do we really need a sign?

You can’t see the forest because of the trees. Come on, open your eyes. You never find what you’re not looking for. We often hear about how important our eyesight is for a variety of things, but do we use it well enough considering that not everyone has the gift of sight?

One of the things I always try to reinforce to the students I teach driving at Young Drivers of Canada is to learn how to use their eyes effectively while driving. Learning to look ahead and predict what may happen and then respond early is the key to safe driving. But, do we always need signs to help warn us of dangerous intersections? Is it the intersection that’s dangerous or what the driver does at the intersection that’s dangerous?

I’ve seen a few signs like this one over the years and have often wondered if that sign changes how drivers treat the intersection. Do the drivers slow down a bit more and scan for other drivers just because the sign is there? Do we need a sign telling us that a certain intersection is dangerous or not? The interesting thing was that this sign was quite high up the pole and was in a poorly lit area. If I had to look away to read the sign at the wrong time, I could be late checking to see if the intersection was clear and a possible crash could occur.

The other thing to think about is why only have these signs at a few intersections? Why not at all of them? Would those signs lower the crash rate at intersections? Maybe those signs have caused some of the crashes because they became a distraction since drivers would have to look away from the driving task to read it? Who knows?

What I do know is that as drivers we need to rely upon our own effective seeing habits to warn us of potential danger. We need to continually look for potential dangers and respond early just in case it may affect us and not rely on a sign predicting trying to do it for us.



  1. The same can be said about all the other signs such as those for children at play, school zones, pedestrian crossings, horse and buggy, horse and rider, or “Share the road” signs with bicycles on them.

    All our Drivers should expect that intersections are dangerous (80% of all collisions occur at intersections.). All of our streets and roads are likely to have bikes on them, some more often than others. In rural areas the roads are much more likely to have horses, with or without a vehicle in tow; even Toronto Police still keep a mounted unit. But beyond horses, slow moving farm equipment is often using rural roads as well. All kinds of vehicle types and users are found on our city and town streets.

    Residential streets are very likely to have families, and therefore kids “at play”. Our streets should be designed to make school zones obvious without the need for special signs; same with should pedestrian crossings.

    The biggest part of the blame lies squarely with bad behaviour which too many of the drivers that we’ve had, these bad drivers have made their communities feel these signs to be necessary. A smaller part of the blame lies with the courts, who have tolerated poor driver behaviour unless specifically signed otherwise.The last part of the blame lies with the rest of us for allowing “traffic engineers” to re-design all of our streets and roads to look so much alike, everywhere, (and to the point that the streets and roads are often seen as synonymous) that drivers feel that they can always drive the same way everywhere.

  2. I am frequently telling people that there are no bad intersections, only bad drivers. We had a new road built a few years ago, and in the first year there were 22 collisions at one intersection along its route. I know there were 22, because there was a sign posted keeping count of them.

    Comments heard were that this was a “bad intersection” that had “poor visibility.” I take my YD students through that intersection, then go around the block and approach it from the cross street. In both cases we have ample opportunity to watch other vehicles enter (often without stopping first) the intersection, or approach the intersection.

    My students fail to understand how people can claim there is poor visibility, when they can see vehicles in or approaching the intersection over a half-kilometre away.

    As I tell them, the visibility is poor if you fail to look first.

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