On May 18, 2011, Tom Vanderbilt posted an article in the online “Slate” magazine an article claiming that Slow Children signs are dangerous to kids. Of course, it’s an opinion editorial, so Tom has a right to state his opinion of such – which go by lots of different names, but for sake of brevity, we’ll stick with the one mentioned above for counterpoint article.
First, let me say that I think Tom is probably a great guy, though I don’t personally know him. But on this occasion, if he were my friend, we’d have to have a rousing discussion about this. In this article Tom claims that the signage displays not only have no effect on drivers, but actually lulls them to sleep, figuratively, when after driving past them for years they never see any children playing.
Why Kid Signage May Still be Effective, Even After Viewing Them for Years
I understand what Tom is saying…I know an old lady who posted one of these road markers not far from here (a non-USDOT approved one, I might add) because fast cars annoy her. There aren’t any kids in that area except maybe on occasion if her grandkids visit. However, I know from personal experience that if I see one in an area, I am far more alert, especially as I have young ones myself.
Slow Children signs say to me, “Watch out, how would you feel if a kid bolted out in front of you and you hit him or her?” And even though I may see the same sign every day while driving about, they are a reminder, like the radar detector on my dashboard, to be vigilant. You never know whose grandkids are visiting!
Another point Tom makes in his op. ed. is that if you see such signage in one area, but not another, will you somehow believe there aren’t any kids in a sign-less area? He believes this to be possible. What if a child is hit by a vehicle in an area where there are no such markers? Is the city, state or county responsible? Can they be sued?
I don’t want to go down a rabbit trail here on tort reform, but one little opinionated statement won’t hurt. America, stop suing everyone about everything! OK…I feel better now.
Why Some Believe a Significant Portion May Nearly be Useless
While I appreciate what Tom is trying to say about Slow Children signs, he offers no scientific evidence that these signs inure the viewer to the potential of kids playing in the street, but he does offer some scientific evidence of the silliness of a 35MPH speed limit coupled with these signs. On this point I agree. Tom states that as a car speed moves above 20MPH, the likelihood of a fatality increases exponentially. So, he recommends the practice followed in many residential areas in the UK – 20MPH speed limits.
The problem I see with reducing the speed limits to 20 MPH is that if the driver sees neither children nor law enforcement, now both signs will be ignored. So, road markers for kids are ignored and Speed Limit signs are ignored.
The entire argument in this article is really a moot point because what is really being shown is that people will behave in the way they typically behave, so the signage will affect many drivers, but won’t phase others. Same with speed limit markers. If we put a cop car or camera on every corner to enforce sign for kids and lower speed limits, will our kids really be any safer in the long run? Or will we simply become another totalitarian country with no freedom? At least we’ll be safe (read this last sentence with a strong hint of sarcasm).
Make sure you know how these Slow Children Signs look like: see here.