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Sign of Confusion

As reported by the Austin-American Statesman, an Austin, Tx., woman went to court over receiving a ticket for making a right turn that, based on the signage, appeared legal.

It wasn’t quite the case of Bill Clinton and “what is the definition of is,” but the case got into some pretty fine-grained legal analysis:

“Gilchrist asked for and was granted a jury trial on May 20 to fight her $185 ticket. Scott Cunningham, a TxDOT traffic engineer, said he testified before the jury that the placement of the state’s traffic sign on Lakeline Boulevard was misleading. A prosecutor argued that the straight arrow painted on the lane itself, along with the presence of the traffic island, was evidence enough that the lane was not a turn lane. Cunningham said state law dictates that traffic signs take precedence over anything painted in a roadway.

(Thanks David!)

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 20th, 2008 at 3:57 pm and is filed under Traffic Signs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Sign of Confusion”

  1. jack Says:

    It appears that she was taking an unwise route around the traffic in the right turn-only lane. She should have been heavily fined so the judge was wrong in reducing the amount to $5. Her desire to save time could create deathly consequences for others. Drivers need to have some common sense and using signs as an excuse for driving incorrectly is a poor excuse. Austin drivers are road hogs.

  2. Sean Brown Says:

    This intersection is a few miles from my parents’ house and I have made this turn a few times. I don’t remember the misleading sign but likely I just didn’t pay attention to it (and evidently neither did the traffic cops…unless they purposefully picked an intersection with a misleading sign to “poach” at!). However, there is definitely “signage overload” here in Austin and most drivers have no idea about the existence of unmarked crosswalks. Basically, more Austinites should read your book!

  3. Sean Brown Says:

    Well, now that I read the article…I can understand that someone at the intersection for the first, or maybe the second time would see the sign and act according. They may see the second sign, the island and the right-turn lane but perhaps because of the initial sign they are caught off-guard and, pass up the right-turn lane, and instead make the illegal right. BUT…this lady claims to have turned right from the intersection on a regular basis for an entire year…I’m not sure if that’s excusable.

  4. Tom Vanderbilt Says:

    You do have wonder whether it was willful ignorance. Another interesting question is the presence of “normative” behavior — if other people were also doing, it’s easy to simply see that and not even notice the signs. But yes, the defense would have been a bit more innocent if there were not that big queue of drivers waiting to turn right; there should be a bit of common sense at work as well that intersections tend not to have two different places at which you can make a right turn.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

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