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COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Traffic scofflaws rejoice

Yes, I’m talking to you — those who probably this very day were guilty of an infraction of the California Code that requires coming to a full stop at every stop sign, even those four-way signs where the cross street gets a car or a pedestrian every few minutes at most.
You may have slowed down to a few feet a second, scanned both directions safely, but as long as those wheels are turning, according to the law it is exactly the same as going through the intersection at full speed.
About a year ago when some people in my neighborhood suggested that they were going to propose another stop sign on the road along the wide greenbelt that is the delight of residents of Village Park, I decided to do a bit of research. I presented my findings to the Encinitas City Council, that the results of dozens of studies show that inappropriate multi-way stop signs, far from preventing accidents, actually increase them.
It’s really not that hard to understand, as good drivers actually have their attention diverted, not by looking for cars or children who could dash into the intersection, but for the police car that might need another ticket to top off his day. To make it worse they often make up lost time by speeding up between stop signs, rather than driving at a steady safe speed all along the corridor.
My arguments about the deeper “moral hazard” of turning law-abiding citizens into law breakers fell on deaf ears. Inertia is a powerful force — whether in multilevel systems of government, like those that determine traffic regulations, or the amount of force converted to heat required to bring a 2-ton vehicle to a full stop. And herein lies the hope for us law-abiding scofflaws who commit the routine crime of performing “California rolling stops.” It is copper. The element that happens to make up as much as 25 percent of break linings.
Copper is just fine as we normally use it, as wires in our homes and in the pots of upscale cookery. But when heated to high temperatures during breaking there are problems, as a recent editorial in the Union Tribune stated, “ Copper is Toxic. As motorists use their breaks, copper dust is released and settles into roadways … to be washed into storm sewers and roadways. It destroys marine life, plants and animals.”
The editorial does not suggest ways to lessen the use of breaks, but approves of a law to require less copper in them, even though they acknowledge that “not enough is known about the potential environmental hazards from replacement materials.”
Multi-way stop signs, although shown to be worse than useless, are a product of bureaucratic inertia. (Need I mention it also being a sweet piggy bank for cash-strapped local government?) The energy required to change public perception has been too great; but now there is a new force, that of the conservation movement, those of us who care about the environment that provides a home for all the flora and fauna of our world … which just happens to include us.
Unlike traffic lights, which are the best way to regulate two major arteries that cross at an intersection, multi-way stop signs have long been known to be subject to political pressure, and defective in many ways. Now there is this new disclosure. Beyond the waste of millions of gallons each year in starting those cars from a full stop, we have the biological hazard of a toxic material being added to the food chain with each unwarranted stop.
In a world full of intractable problems, this one is amazingly simple to correct. It’s as easy as changing a few words in the California code, or the replacement of most four-way signs with yield signs. But inertia is a powerful force of nature. So while we are waiting for the law to be changed, remember those tickets for rolling stops are expensive, and quoting this column probably won’t get you off.

Al Rodbell is a local writer, blogger and political activist. His primary blog is


Gary Lauder June 27, 2010 at 10:23 pm

As if the reasons you cited were not enough, there are also compelling economic reasons to reduce stop signs. Many of those are listed here:
(and I know you know them).



Nicholas A. Loisos June 25, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Great article.

Low key and I think effective. I am not sure if you broke the camel’s back but I certainly think you added a good deal of discussion to future decisions for new stop signs. I think the most effective element in the conversation is the issue of copper harming humans, or more importantly “our children”. No doubt the mothers of autistic children will look into this and they will probably find some evidence of harm. It would actually be great if it could be proven that copper is the problem so we could fix the problem and stop autism. Just think about Lead and the consequences it had on the Roman Empire.

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