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Posted on: January 28, 2020

The effectiveness of STOP signs

A stop sign can be an effective control device when used at the right place and under the right conditions. It is intended to help drivers and pedestrians at an intersection decide who has the right-of-way. Public understanding the function of stop signs is one of the most critical elements in reducing speeding and traffic accidents.

The City of Chowchilla policy on intersection traffic controls and the correct use of stop signs embodies the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a set of well-developed, federal and state recognized guidelines. These guidelines take into consideration, among other things, the probability of vehicles arriving at an intersection at the same time, the length of time traffic must wait to enter, traffic delays, and the availability of safe crossing opportunities. The stop sign is used to assign right-of-way at an intersection and to make sure that traffic flows smoothly and predictably.

Contrary to common thought, a stop sign is not an effective means to control speeding. Research shows that where stop signs are installed as "deterrents" or "speed breakers," there are high incidences of intentional violations resulting in accidents. When vehicles must stop, the speed reduction is only near the stop sign, and drivers tend to speed up between stop sign controlled intersections. When not required to stop by cross-street traffic 20-40% of drivers pass through stop signs at speeds higher than 5 mph. Signs placed on major and collector streets are the most flagrantly violated.

Studies show that the stop sign may cause such an inconvenience that traffic detours through other residential streets, parking lots, etc. The overuse of stop signs will cause many drivers to ignore them, creating a more hazardous situation, especially in low volume areas, such as residential neighborhoods.

When a request for a stop sign is received, City staff evaluate the intersection following State and Federal guidelines to ensure uniformity in traffic control. This includes a review of the criteria outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices such as vehicle and pedestrian volumes, traffic speeds, intersection visibility, e.g., trees and shrubbery, and accident history. Experience has shown that improving the intersection visibility by prohibiting parking near the intersection or removing sight obstructions is often more effective at reducing accidents.

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