Stop-Sign Solution Could Save Drivers Time And Money

March 22, 2010
Gary Lauder's Take Turns sign

Gary Lauder's Take Turns sign

Either on your daily commute or out on a Saturday drive, it's likely you have to make numerous unnecessary stops at T-type intersections. And for those where sight lines are clear and no other vehicle is approaching the intersection, simply easing into your turn could save some gas as well as time, right?

Gary Lauder, a venture capitalist and co-founder of the Aspen Institute's Socrates Society, ran through the numbers as part of a presentation last month as part of the TED Talks series, and the numbers are shocking.

Lauder looked at T-type intersections where a three-way stop sign setup was installed, yet vehicles rarely approach the intersection from one of the sides. He found that for the straight section of the intersection, 3,000 cars each way passed through the intersection, each using an average two ounces, or about five cents, of extra gasoline to accelerate from a complete stop. Added up, that's more than $51,000 per year in gasoline.

Then adding up the time lost stopping at stop signs, he calculated that, given ten seconds of delay per stop, there's 8.3 hours of total delay per day, per stop sign. Multiply that by a $20-per-hour wage and you get nearly $61,000 in lost money, potentially—or in total, about $112,000. That's for one intersection, so it would be fair to say that the costs of stop signs rank in the billions.

Over time, for all the money lost due to many intersections, it could potentially cover the cost of purchasing the adjacent property and installing a roundabout.



A number of studies agree that roundabouts save lives and reduce crashes, and the insurance industry and some safety groups have backed roundabouts for many years. In an IIHS study of 24 intersections converted to roundabouts, crashes dropped 40 percent overall, with injury crashes down 76 percent and 90 percent fewer fatal crashes.

But replacing intersections with roundabouts in our very grid-based road system is costly, and it isn't going to happen on a large scale anytime soon.

According to Lauder's proposed system, for an intersection that would currently have stop signs in all directions, a new 'Take Turns' sign, which would combine features of stop and yield signs, would be placed on the busier of the two roads, while the road with the lighter traffic would still have a normal stop sign. This would eliminate the ambiguity for those on the busier road when no other traffic is present but allow more caution in letting them turn in when there's a constant stream of traffic.

"The great frustration of waiting for one's chance to jump in is a major source of accidents," commented Lauder on an information page.

stop sign - flickr user thecrazyfilmgirl

stop sign - flickr user thecrazyfilmgirl

"Some have speculated that this is a joke. Aspects of it may be funny, but it's not (to me anyway)," said Lauder, who first started thinking about this 27 years ago when he got a ticket for not coming to a full stop in a clear intersection. "Presently with stop signs, it is illegal not to come to a complete stop, even if you can clearly see that there is nothing to stop for. This is a stupid situation."

Politeness is neither the issue nor the purpose for the sign. "The purpose is to ALLOW people to legally and safely do what is best for them and the environment in a common type of intersection," he argues, pointing out that studies regarding so-called traffic calming tactics—placing more stop signs than needed to slow traffic or reduce traffic on side streets—only results in higher speeds between those stop signs.

Lauder says that aside from the need to educate the public, the new signs would only cost about $200, or the same as new stop signs.

"Since I have a day job, I am hoping that others will take this up," says Lauder, appealing to planners, traffic engineers, transportation experts, and public officials to adopt a solution.

It could add up to a lot of fuel (and time) saved, nationwide.

What do you think? Could Americans learn to follow a new sign relatively quickly? Would more traffic lights solve the situation? Or should we focus efforts toward building more roundabouts?


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