The Difficulty With Stop Signs

Stop LineOne wouldn't think that stopping at a stop sign would be such a problem for drivers. It seems relatively simple, come to a complete stop, look both ways and then go if it is safe to do so. With the poor compliance rate, we should ask is the stop sign the best form of traffic control for intersections that are not controlled by traffic signals?

Let's examine what making a proper stop means and where it has to be done. You may be surprised to learn that the stop sign itself simply tells you what you must do, not where you have to do it.

The simplest case is one where there is nothing at the intersection other than the stop sign. Here one must stop before entering the intersection itself and in a position nearest to the crossroad where a driver has a clear view of traffic approaching on that crossroad.

Where there is a marked crosswalk along with the stop sign a driver must stop before entering the crosswalk. Doing so will protect against a collision if the driver has failed to notice any pedestrians present.

One failure of our current Motor Vehicle Act is not including unmarked crosswalks in this requirement. Not all unmarked crosswalks are preceeded by a marked stop line to provide some protection for pedestrians.

The stop sign with a marked stop line seems to be the most difficult. Stop lines never seem to be placed at a point where the driver has a good view to the left and right if they stop as required. Consequently, stop lines are often ignored completely. The proper thing to do here is to stop at the line, move ahead to a point where you can see properly, stop again and then proceed after looking both ways to insure it is safe to do so.

Death by Stop Sign is an article in Psychology Today authored by John Staddon. He singles out the stop sign saying:

Look at the familiar stop sign. It does two bad things: First, it makes you look at the stop sign rather than the traffic—it distracts. Second, it doesn’t tell you what you need to know. It tells you to stop even when you can see perfectly well that there is no cross traffic. It shouts “don’t trust your own judgment!”

Dr. Staddon provides Britain as an example of how it should be done. Stop signs are a rare item beside their roads he says, you will find yield signs or their equivalent road markings instead. They have a lower collision rate than North America and yielding instead of stopping saves time and reduces pollution.

He also hints that the roundabout would be preferred over both stop and yield signs. These intersections can reduce collisions by 37% and fatal collisions by 90%.

So, until roundabouts become common in British Columbia, keep in mind that more than half of all collisions happen at intersections. Following proper stop sign etiquette places you in control in a high hazard area.

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I think people don't think about why that white stopping line is so far back. One of the main reasons is because that line lines up with where pedestrians walk, so if drivers stop behind the line and pedestrians are about to cross, the pedestrians don't get cut off. Drivers should be stopping behind the line and looking for pedestrians/cyclists before moving forward to a point that they can see properly in both directions. People cut corners sometimes as well, so drivers who stop fully behind the white line first won't be at risk of making contact with other vehicles cutting the corner on a left turn. 

I seen an accident the other day.

What happens in a situation when the driver stops completely at a one way stop sign. Looking both ways and then begins to inch up slowly to make a left handed turn. The driver obviously proceeds because he/she feels it is safe to do so.

Going back to the scenario. "Out of the blue" a speeding sports car comes from the left and then clips the other car as the driver of the other car is inching up. The other car is also too close to the right. 

Would both drivers be at fault or just the driver who made a full stop and then proceeded. 

Well I have no idea about fault but it depends on what kind of intersection, but if one car has a stop sign and one doesn't, then it's up to the one with the stop sign to NOT proceed until it is safe; that is the whole idea behind stop signs is it not? if a sports car comes flying down the road then it is the job of the car at the stop sign to notice this happening. Sports cars come flying down the road all the time, that is what sports cars do. However, if the sports car is speeding WAY over the limit then I have read about cases where they will also be assigned a certain amount of fault or as a contributing factor to the crash, so they may share the fault. But I think that the car with the stop sign would generally be at fault. If the driver does not have good visilbity then he should do something about that , by inching forward an appropriate amount, instead of making a decision with poor visibility and then having to suffer the consequences. 

I have said for many years, there should be more yield and fewer stop signs.  I do agree that the roundabouts are still safest in many situations, only a little frustrating when they are very busy or when the driver in front of you doesn't know when to go or not. 

Oh and then there is this thing about signalling in circles being too confusing so many don't bother with it.

It's a video about life without stop signs in the Netherlands:

The point you make about stop signs, yields and roundabouts:

I lived for many years in Swindon England. There they had replaced all traffic lights and stop signs with mini roundabouts. These where essentially round white circles painted in the middle of the intersection about two feet in diameter sometimes raised in the centre and sometimes just painted flat.

The rules were to follow the same rules as in a roundabout. ie: yield to those coming from, here in Canada, the left.

Worked wonderfully when people understood it. Kept traffic flowing constantly with very little stationary traffic. Not sure whether Nanaimo drivers would catch on!!

If you're interested, visit "The Magic Roundabout" in Swindon, England. Fascinating! A five way intersection controlled by five Mini Roundabouts!! It actually worked! But confused the heck out of even roundabout savvy Englishmen.

I see it almost everytime I am out driving, I see drivers running stop signs and not even slowing down.  Dangerous.  

The one good thing that may come out of self driving cars is....they will have sensors on them that will read stop signs, yield signs, speed limit signs and red lights.

Now, if you started to eliminate stop signs in this country, look out.  The drivers here wouldn’t be able to handle it.  Not for a long time.

It’s just like having snow tires on your vehicle.  A lot of drivers figure you can go just as fast on the snowy roads with winter tires and they end up in trouble or cause an accident.

In Europe for example, your allowed booze in parks and beaches, here people would go nuts with booze in the parks and beaches etc. because we can’t handle their booze in public.

As far as I am concerned, nothing like a 4-way stop. At least in most cases, someone will stop.

Thank you for noting the approach used in the UK. I have driven in Europe and appreciated the fact that stop signs are only used where poor sight lines mandate their use. Safety is not improved by coming to a complete stop when the way is obviously clear.

I’d love to see yield signs used more. In the meantime, I’ve learned to focus on coming to a complete stop before checking for cross traffic. This is not ideal, because I give up situational awareness, but I’m compliant with the law!

In reply to by DriveSmartBC

... is in the local mall parking lot.

Sometimes they also put "STOP" in white letters there, too. But does the legal requirement to stop, and also to give right of way, apply without a sign, per Section 186?

What if you're in a parking lot, and there is no Stop sign and no Stop lettering on the ground, but there is still something that looks like a stopline?

In reply to by CompetentDrivingBC

I'm not sure that I would want to try prosecuting a ticket for that in traffic court. It would probably depend heavily on the justice as I am unaware of case law on the point.