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I'm A Stop Sign Enthusiast, And You Should Join Me

Illustration for article titled Im A Stop Sign Enthusiast, And You Should Join Me
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Growing up in Austin during the first Dot-Com Boom (1990-bust), I saw many people from out of state move in and bring their regional driving habits with them. Floridians drive slow as all hell. Yankees would as soon slice me with a shank than let me merge into their lane in front of them. But Californians... They brought with them the “California Stop”; a rolling slowdown between 3 and 5 mph in the place of a full halt at a normal stop sign (or red light when turning right). This annoyed me in my formative years and created my insistence of full stops at these wonderful bright red octagons. And after reading this, you might just start the habit, too.

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Now that I’m “an old”, I have a decent enough house that I’ve filled with children, a wife, and a Pomeranian, in a neighborhood just outside of Houston. It might be a different time and a different location, but the story here is quite similar; people from many different cultures, from both around the country and the world, have moved into my neighborhood and share their self-transportation habits with the rest of us. This is a problem.

Let’s back up a bit, shall we? In 1993, as a high school student, I became a volunteer firefighter with the local FD. And not an “assistant firefighter”, as my mother liked to tell herself; a full-fledged, competent firefighter. Structure fires, pin-in collisions (the jaws of life” were neat and all, but have you ever taken the roof off a car with a hydraulic o-cutter? SO MUCH FUN), and, most commonly, car accidents were my main fortes. And MAN, there were a lot of car accidents. Namely at intersections. Usually, because one (or both) of the vehicles involved ignored a red light or a stop sign and just kept rolling on. California stops, y’all. This is when I was 16 and 17 that I was seeing all of this.

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How did these people pull out in front of huge ass vehicles without seeing the danger coming at them? A completely avoidable collision? Because they were so used to rolling those particular stop signs that it became an unconscious habit. When the police would ask them what happened, the stop sign runners wouldn’t even remember. Not because they got hit in the head, but because they were just rolling around doing the same mindless stop sign running that they always do, but this time with another car coming in. Witnesses would usually say the same thing at every accident: “This car was just driving down the road, and the other car didn’t even care to look or stop.”

Back to present day. My neighbors come from places all over the world, and many of those places have considerably more laxed traffic laws than we have here. Speed limits, right of ways, intersection stop signs, turning lane etiquette, passing in no passing areas, CORRECT SIDE OF THE ROAD TO DRIVE ON... All of these are ignored by many of this area’s inhabitants. The infraction that has gotten people killed (yes literally, no, I’m not being dramatic) in this subdivision, though, is the rolling/running of stop signs.

For the better part of 30 years, I’ve forced myself into the habit of fully stopping when the law requires me to do so. And it’s a great habit, too! Every time a kid runs out into the street when my car’s wheels completely stop rolling right as the car’s front bumper comes to the crosswalk paint, I feel relieved. Every time I slow my vehicle down at a responsible rate, cease the car’s movement completely, and someone comes bombing down the cross road at an irresponsible speed that I would have pulled out in front of, I know that I just got out of being t-boned and stuck with the full tab for the repairs/hospital bills.

Every time someone else doesn’t stop completely at a stop sign, I try to watch their eyes to find out if they even glance to confirm that the coast is clear. Too many times, the drivers aren’t even paying attention. Maybe they’re staring blankly out the windshield on “autopilot”, or glancing down at their lap/phone, or just coasting through not looking at anything in particular; they aren’t looking for the little kid on the bike that is joyfully pedaling down their street or the car that’s now crossing the large intersection in front of them.

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Honestly, are you? Think about it as truthfully as you possibly can.

My wife HATES my stops (she calls them “exaggerated”, I call them “complete”). If I were to get rear-ended at a stop sign, she’d say it was my fault because I fully stopped. But she is originally from Not Texas, so she drives a little wonky anyways (love you, hon!!).

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My neighbors hate my stops, too, because it prevents them from cruising on through the intersection and breaks them from their unconscious habit. From horns to middle fingers to hollered profanities, the reactions I’ve gotten from simply stopping my vehicle for about 1.5 seconds at the place that the law requires us all to has been interesting. They’re not really to blame, though; they’ve been taught by their culture, in area that they grew up in, that many traffic laws are optional. It’s interesting seeing someone pull out into an intersection, hit someone that were in the right, and then blame the other person for the accident without denying their actions.

Being a stop sign enthusiast is not for the faint of heart. It takes discipline, tenacity, an acute attention to the world around you, and commitment. Commitment to accepting that making a full stop might just add up to 4 seconds to your trip PER STOP SIGN. It means that you accept using first gear more often and not just keeping it in second while feathering the clutch. You might get honked at. You might get flicked off by someone behind you that ain’t got time for that. You might also not run over that family of four going for a walk, or hit someone and get your insurance all jacked up (at best).

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Join me. Embrace the stop.

tl;dr I don’t run stop signs and you shouldn’t either.

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