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By Jordan W. Charness

For some reason, I seem to be in a bit of a stop sign mood this March. Next to speeding, stop sign violation is pretty much the most common type of ticket given out by your local police. One would think that stopping at a stop sign would not be all that complicated and that most people would be able to do it effectively and legally every time.

That doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps we all feel that stop signs are a little bit of an annoyance, particularly if they are placed very close together. According to law, in order to properly stop at a stop sign, you must come to a full stop, you must look both ways, and you must only proceed if it is safe to do so.

In addition, you must be sure to stop at the stop line if there is one painted on the road. If not, you should stop at the corner. You’re not allowed to stop before the line or the corner nor are you allowed to stop after the line or the corner. Rolling through the stop sign is a definite no-no, no matter how slowly you are going.

In most jurisdictions going through stop signs is a strict liability offence. This means that you do not have to have the intention of going through the stop sign; all the police have to do is prove that you actually rolled through it. Defending the stop sign violation can be difficult but not impossible.

The following defences were taken from real court cases and you can judge for yourself whether the judge did a good job in accepting or refusing these great excuses.

  1. The driver claimed that he did not stop at the stop sign because he did not notice that the sign was there or even notice the police car that was around the corner. He claims that he didn’t see either of them because there were cars parked on the side of the road. He was found… guilty.
  2. The defendant pleaded that the fog was so thick that night that he could not see the stop sign. The court rightly concluded that if the fog was so thick that he could not see stop signs, he had an obligation to park his vehicle and not drive it at all. He was found… guilty.
  3. This defendant managed to prove that the stop sign was of the folding variety used for temporary use. He says that it was hidden by a pole and by a sign pointing to a garage. The judge decided that he really did not see the stop sign and therefore found him… not guilty.
  4. The driver pointed out to the judge that at the intersection listed on his ticket there was not actually a stop sign. It appears that the police officer accused him of failing to go through a stop sign at a place where there was none. Since there really was no stop sign at that corner, the judge found him… not guilty.
  5. A volunteer firefighter was on his way to the fire station to respond to an alarm. He was driving an ordinary car that was not equipped with emergency flashers. The judge decided that even though he was supposed to report to the fire station as quickly as possible this did not mean that he was allowed to run through stop signs, causing danger to himself and to others. He was found… guilty.
  6. And my all-time favourite of the great excuses: the defendant managed to prove without a shadow of a doubt that a stop sign at that particular place was completely useless. Although the judge did agree with him, as there was indeed a stop sign there, he had a legal obligation to stop. The judge found him… guilty as charged.
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