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  • By Jordan W. Charness

    “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign;
    Blocking out the scenery; breaking my mind;
    Do this. Don’t do that. Can’t you read the sign?”
    — Five-man Electrical Band

    Have you ever noticed how many signs there are on our roads? Actually, they are not on the road per se, but rather they are next to the road, above the road, beside the road, and a little way over from the road. You’ll find signs on posts, on polls, on placards, on overhangs, on bridges, on barriers, on buildings, and on just about every conceivable place where a sign could actually be put.

    All the signs have one thing in common. They are there to speak to you. Each one contains a different nugget of information that you, the driver, are supposed to assimilate while zooming down the road at speeds up to 100 km/h!

    Signs seem to fall into three main categories: advertising, information, and mandatory. Advertising signs include billboards, posters, store signs, movie marquees and even advertisements painted on the sides of trucks and cars. All of these signs are designed to be as flashy as possible so as to capture your attention and help you concentrate on their message. When you think about it, this does seem to be the opposite of what they teach you at driving school: “Eyes on the road, no distractions!” Nonetheless, there are few laws that regulate the placement of the signs from a strictly driver’s point of view.

    Although there are many zoning rules, advertising regulations and other laws that affect the placement of these types of signs, the fact of the matter is that if you are reading a billboard you are not watching the road ahead of you. Fortunately, by their very nature these signs present an extremely limited and short message. Most of us are easily capable of scanning the advertising signs and watching the road at the same time. If you don’t successfully do both, and you cause an accident, you will be responsible for the damage you cause and may even be ticketed for dangerous driving.

    Mandatory signs are those erected by the government to inform you as to what the rules of the road are for that particular road. These include speed limit signs, no parking signs, yield signs and of course stop signs. Disregard these signs at your peril. Ignoring what these signs have to say is a sure way to get ticketed and in the case of moving violations earn yourself a packet of demerit points.

    Just because you have been on a specific road several times in the past does not mean that you are now free to stop reading the road signs. They change from time to time. A two-way street can become a one-way street. A place where it was legal to park yesterday may have become a no parking zone today. Speed limits may change, new schools may be built and new stop signs may be erected. If you’re lucky you may even notice a new sign advising you that new signs are now in effect!

    Information signs are those that give you information that you need to know for your own or someone else’s safety or well being. These can include signs that tell you the name of the street you’re driving on or the number of the Highway. They also include exit signs as well as those signs that tell you whether you can get gas at the next exit. Other signs will tell you the name of the city or town you are approaching and some might even tell you what the current population of some small town is when everyone is home.

    Another set of information signs, are those that try to impart a message alerting you to specific danger in the vicinity. One sign that you see very often is a picture of a moose or deer indicating that these animals tend to cross the road in that area.

    I’ve often wondered if the animal reads the signs and therefore knows just where to cross. What happens if you come upon a moose that can’t read? What if the deer does not want to cross at the deer crossing? (I know, your wildlife specialist will tell me that surveys have been done noting where animals tend to cross the road and the signs are put up afterwards. But what happens if a new generation of moose or deer decide to ignore the old ways of their ancestors and set up brand-new places to cross the road?)

    The province of Quebec has come up with a new sign which is really quite impressive. The sign depicts a regular moose crossing sign. However the place where there is usually a drawing of a moose is empty. The picture of the moose appears on another part of the panel and the caption reads “sometimes the moose is not only on the sign. Watch where you are going.” While humorous, this sign does an excellent job of getting the message across.

    Another information sign that we often see is one that reads “Caution: children playing”. The province of Quebec has now put up a few other signs that drive the message home. They show a drawing of an injured child with a caption that reads “Be careful with our children”. Poignant, eye-catching and well done, this sign gives you something to think about.

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