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Highway Signs: All That Traffic Allows

Updated on December 6, 2017
William F. Torpey profile image

Graduated NYU in 1964. Worked in NYC for 2 years in public relations then as reporter and editor before retiring from The Hour newspaper.

Highway Sign Readability


Typical American Traffic

Traffic in Sao Paulo, Brazil

You are driving down an unfamiliar stretch of highway trying to stay alert for any clue that might help to direct you to the turn, or exit, you should take to reach your destination; perhaps it's the home of a friend you once promised to visit someday, or maybe it's a shop you've heard that forges custom-built golf clubs at reasonable prices.

Suddenly the sky is obliterated by an array of overhead signs indicating turnoffs left and right for any number of unfamiliar streets, business centers or towns. You wonder, "Should I turn here?"

You decide you'd better keep going straight, hoping you'll come upon something more enlightening.

You decide to lighten up on the gas pedal, just in case; you don't like the cars and trucks that keep tailgating you, but you'd rather not miss your turnoff.

Here comes an exit that could be the one you're looking for, but the last sign you passed down the road was inexplicable to you. So you opt to keep going.

Oops! Missed the Exit!

But, alas, just as you've committed yourself to pass the exit there appears a sign that makes sense.

That exit you just whizzed by was the one you wanted!

Why couldn't the people who put up that sign place it before the exit so you would know in time that it was your exit?

Does this story have a familiar ring to it?

For me, it's just one of scores of disturbing experiences I've had over the years.

In fact, the most common highway sign I see is not a road sign at all, but, rather, a sign of potential highway disasters.

Accidents Waiting to Happen

Some of these represent accidents waiting to happen, for example:

* * * The badly engineered section of road that takes you southbound from the Route 7 Expressway (in Norwalk, Conn.) to I-95 (where I personally saw a motorcyclist's leather-clad body near the turnpike's median divider after he obviously failed to negotiate the decreasing-radius turn.)

* * * The ill-advised, dangerous practice of broken white lines to indicate passing zones. These zones are a menace across the country where people unfamiliar with the area combine lack of local knowledge with poor judgment and try to pass when they shouldn't. Young people certainly are nimble in handling a car, but, if I remember correctly, are a lot more willing than mature adults to take a chance. The wrong decision here can be fatal!

There are untold stories that could be told about poorly written (and poorly placed) signs.

Personally, I'd favor a federal law that would mandate that any town, city or state or other body planning to put up a highway sign be required to have an out-of-towner or out-of-stater decide what a traffic sign should say and where it should be placed.

Master Builder?

Only half in jest, I've often told the two friends I have left that there is a good reason highways are poorly designed and road signs, too often, are a disaster: Thousands, perhaps millions, of young people in the country tell their parents or teachers they'd like to (become engineers and) build skyscrapers, underwater tunnels or world-class bridges.

But, have you ever heard of a youngster whose goal in life is to be a traffic engineer?

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Jan. 22, 1994. The poor engineering of highways and the careless placement of traffic signs hasn't been improved one iota since then. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.

Are city and/or state traffic engineers too cavalier about how and where they place road signs?

See results

Incredible Traffic in India -- WOW!


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    • mandymoreno81 profile image

      mandymoreno81 6 years ago

      While GPS are also lifesavers, I can't count how many times where I've missed the exit because it didn't update me on time.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I go back and watch that video myself every now and then, Petty W. It's truly incredible (They sure could use that new technology they've developed to insure that cars can't hit each other.) Traffic signs are unbelievably bad throughout the country. They are often poorly placed and frequently contribute, I'm sure, to much confusion that leads to lots of accidents.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      That video is amazing! Now I will enjoy Houston, Texas traffic more...only in comparison. Haha! Brilliant idea to have out-of-towners approve the traffic signs. If it would be clear to a person that does not know the town or city, it would obviously help everyone navigate the streets.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thank you very much, Micky Dee. Your comment gave me another opportunity to view the most incredible video I've ever seen.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 8 years ago

      Nice hub. I had read this before but wanted to refresh. Thanks

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thanks, soumyasrajan. I'm sure the slower speeds help, but I'm not sure I'd want to try to navigate the kind of traffic seen on the video in my hub. Being "psyched up" helps, too, I'm sure, but I know people who who don't even like driving on American highways.

    • profile image

      soumyasrajan 8 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      Hi! Bill!

      Enjoyed your hub. The one about traffic in India is indeed amazing. For me it is a reality in two dimensions. As just now I am doing it. You might perhaps feel how people can drive. Despite chaos it is not really that hard to drive here. Two things specially makes it a lot safer. Speed is very low and psychologically you ready for any thing coming from any direction any time. All signals, stops intersections are 4-way stops (actually 8-way).

      Picture from Brazil could equally be from India.

    • profile image

      Bob 10 years ago

      Bill , I was an Ass't. Traffic Engineer For the County for close to four years. One of my sections that I supervised was that of Accident Analysis.I could tell you tons of stories. Maybe I will at breakfast one of these mornings.