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Behind the Badge Setting the record straight on traffic signs

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Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012 12:00 am

Traffic signs. We barely notice them as they quietly seek to influence our driving conduct. They're shaped like triangles, rectangles, squares, circles, or diamonds. Sort of like those weird marshmallow things in Frosted Lucky Charms.

There are some misconceptions out there about the traffic signs in town. A few drivers feel they are more like guidelines, like "the code" in "Pirates of the Caribbean." That's not the case.

One of my friends got into an accident on School Street years ago. He stopped, then drove straight past the upside-down red triangle yield sign and smashed into a car. The officer who investigated the accident gave my friend a ticket for failure to yield.

My buddy called me in a snit a few days later. He couldn't understand why he was at fault in the accident. He insisted he saw the sign and yielded before he entered the intersection. It was apparent he didn't understand the definition of the word yield. I explained had he actually obeyed the sign and yielded for the car, there wouldn't have been an accident. He was adamant that he yielded. I told him that unless he had some sort of car that could embarrass Einstein by bending time, he did not yield. He ended the conversation huffily with, "I did too yield. I yielded, then I crashed into the guy." I gave up.

Officers would often park in a lot near the intersection of Kettleman Lane and Fairmont Avenue to monitor traffic. Due to the high number of accidents there, the city erected a "right turn only" sign along with a small cement median that was supposed to keep people from turning left or driving across the intersection. Drivers would gingerly maneuver around the median, then dart across Kettleman Lane instead of turning right. It was a very dangerous practice.

One day I was watching the intersection when I saw a red, white, and blue Ford Maverick with whitewall tires come to a stop on Fairmont facing north. The "right turn only" sign was staring the driver and his sweet ride in the face. Most people who obeyed the sign came to a stop, then immediately turned right. The violators all did the same thing. They'd stop, look from side-to-side, sneak out a foot or two onto Kettleman Lane, look around some more, crawl another foot or two, glance at the sign in defiance, then turn left or bolt straight across the street.

I started my patrol car as Mr. Maverick glanced secretively from side-to-side. I put my car in gear as his car tip-toed ahead a few feet instead of turning right as the sign demanded he do. I drove out of the lot as he shot across the intersection like Alvin or one of his overdressed chipmunk cult members darts out in front of you as you drive past Lodi Lake. Evasive maneuvers now!

I stopped Maverick, minus Goose, a block away. I informed him I stopped him for failing to obey the "right turn only" sign. He admitted that he saw the sign. He admitted that he read the sign. He even admitted that he knew the sign meant he had to turn right. I asked him that, if he understood all of that information, why he insisted on driving straight across the intersection. He paused for a second as he brain sorted through excuses like an old juke box flips records looking for Hank Williams' Your Cheatin' Heart. His face brightened as he selected an answer. He blurted out, "I'm not from around here." Nice try.

One more thing. Who's the guy in the black silhouette on some of the traffic signs around town? You've seen him. He's the guy with the perfectly round Jack-in-the-Box head who's carrying books next to his young sister (she's wearing a skirt) on the flourescent green "entering a school zone" signs. He's in a very uncomfortable position as he rides his bike on the signs painted on the bike lanes. He might be in pain but he's wearing a helmet.

He's the same gentleman on a skateboard in the "no skateboarding" sign. He's frozen in mid-stride on the "no pedestrians allowed" sign. I think he's the same guy who's exhibiting perfect posture as he skids all over the place in the "slippery when wet" signs or merrily carrying his backpack and walking stick in the "hiker crossing ahead" signs. For goodness sake, he doesn't have any hands or feet. Who is this guy?

All kidding aside, all of the signs are important and they were placed near the roadway for a specific reason. The vehicle code sections they represent are there for your safety and the safety of others. Enjoy the ride and keep an eye out for the guy in the silhouette.

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