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By Jordan W. Charness

Peter called me yesterday, filled with righteous anger. He had just received a $150 ticket for going through a stop sign that he swears wasn’t there! Or at least, he claimed it wasn’t there in the morning and it wasn’t there in the afternoon, but it was there in the evening with a cop parked next to it!

Peter drives that route two or three times a day and is familiar with virtually every block and road sign on that trip. He’s driven it so often that he thinks that the car could probably do it by heart with little or no input from him. That might be part of the problem.

Once he was pulled over, he looked carefully at the corner and there indeed was a shiny new stop sign. But it was really shiny and really new. He had tried to argue with the cop and complained that he was sure that the stop sign was not there that morning or even that afternoon. The police officer assured him that the sign had been in place for at least a week. He then gave him a ticket and told him to tell his story to the judge.

Before running it by a judge he wanted to know what I thought of his excuse. I began my usual explanation that even if he didn’t know the stop sign was there, ignorance of the law was no excuse. Besides he certainly should have kept his eyes on the road and on all the traffic signs on his route.

He countered with the fact that he felt that there should have been a sign warning him that a new stop sign had been installed so that he would have known to look out for it in which case he would have stopped.

Although it is true that very often many municipalities will install signs advising motorists that there is a new stop sign or a new traffic light, they are not always obligated to do so.

I did ask him how he could miss seeing a bright red stop sign. His response was that since he knew the route so well he really didn’t pay much attention to signs because he knew exactly where all the signs and traffic lights were. He pretty much drives that route on autopilot.

At that point his defence really started going downhill. In the first place, if he wasn’t paying attention to street signs because he knew the route so well, he probably wouldn’t have noticed the signs warning him that a new sign had been put up.

Secondly, telling a judge that he doesn’t pay attention while he is driving will certainly not earn him the sympathy of the court.

The moral of the story is that Peter, and every other driver, must keep their eyes on the road and be fully aware of their surroundings. The driver has the obligation to stop it all stop signs, no matter how new or recently they were installed.

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