By Tim Baxter, Road Safety and Loss Prevention Specialist
I have received thousands of calls in the 18 plus years I have worked part time and full time for NIRMA concerning different signing and liability issues related to county roads. Some of the road related calls are unique, some are not so nice, and many signing questions are relatively easy to answer by reference to the federal MUTCD and Nebraska State Supplement to the MUTCD. As a result of my experience with the continued calls and questions, I feel it necessary to address some of the most asked and unique issues.
“Watch for Children” or “SLOW – Children at Play” Signs – Since summer is nearly here, counties will begin receiving requests from rural citizens for the installation of “Watch for Children” and “SLOW – Children
at Play” signs.
At first glance, it might seem that “Watch for Children” or “SLOW Children at Play” signs installed in advance of rural residences along county roads would provide improved safety for children playing in their yard, private driveways, or even should they run onto or play on a county road. Unfortunately, this type of sign encourages parents to incorrectly believe that children have an added degree of protection. It may even lead parents to be less careful about keeping their children out of the roadway. The “Watch for Children” and “SLOW – Children at Play” signs are a direct and open suggestion that it is acceptable to play in or near the road, which is obviously an incorrect and dangerous message.
Any sense of security created by these signs is false. Studies show that the presence of this type of sign does not reduce pedestrian crashes or vehicle speeds. Warning signs tend to lose their effectiveness when they warn of conditions that are only occasionally present.
Federal standards discourage the use of these signs and they are not recognized in the State of Nebraska Supplement to the MUTCD traffic sign manual. Counties are discouraged from using this type of sign in residential situations (as distinguished from designated playgrounds – see Section 2C.51 of the MUTCD for possible signage for these).
County road departments should strive to remove visibility problems in county rights-of-way to improve sight distance at all intersections, including private drives.
“Dangerous Intersection” Signs – Dangerous intersection signs were removed from the federal MUTCD years ago, yet I still see counties using them. Installing “Dangerous Intersection” signs basically informs the public that the county knows the intersection is dangerous but does not explain the danger or instruct drivers how to safely navigate it.
Instead of using the “Dangerous Intersection” signs, install the appropriate intersection signs with the proper advisory speed plaques in advance of intersections or the proper traffic control at intersections that are considered unsafe.
“Slow” Signs – Like the “Dangerous Intersection” sign, the “Slow” sign was removed from the MUTCD years ago, and again, I still see them in use. The problem with the installation of “Slow” signs is that they are too vague -how slow is slow and what is the reason for having to slow down?
Many times, the “Slow” sign is used in advance of blind intersections where oncoming or intersecting traffic is difficult to see. The sign to use in these situations is the proper intersection sign with appropriate advisory speed plaque, or consider a “BLIND” plaque installed below the proper intersection sign. Remember to use the sign that appropriately fits the intersection, such as four-way intersection, side road, etc.
County Road Speed Control – Stop signs are not to be used for speed control. The proper installation of any and all regulatory signs requires an engineering study of the location, report to the county board showing need and the adoption of a county board resolution approving said regulatory sign installation.
Speed bumps should NOT be installed on high speed roadways to slow traffic. Speed bumps can only be used on very low speed roads. Speed bumps are not to be confused with rumble strips which warn traffic of an
upcoming stop, sharp turn, etc.
DO NOT CUT DITCHES across county roads to slow traffic! This might seem obvious, but I actually know of an instance when a county board supervisor took his personal motor grader and cut a ditch across a county road to slow traffic at the request of a taxpayer. When the supervisor informed me of his actions, I informed him that he could be personally cited with a misdemeanor, and he and the County could be sued for monetary damages if his actions of purposely damaging a public road caused an accident, because obstructing the road by digging violates Neb. Rev. Stat. §39-301. If an accident had occurred due to the ditch across the county road, the County could have faced dire legal consequences.