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"CHILDREN AT PLAY" Signs
Road signs give messages to drivers. If the messages are unclear, unnecessary, or confusing they can cause danger to motorists and others. Maine municipalities and the Maine Department of Transportation use the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) as the standard for placing traffic signs and markings to give clear messages to motorists.
According to the report "Maintenance Management of Street and Highways Signs" by the Transportation Research Board, improvements in traffic signing have the highest benefit-cost ratio of any highway safety improvement. About 29% of tort liability lawsuits against highway departments are related to traffic signing. For these reasons alone, it is worthwhile to install road signs according to the MUTCD.
Citizens often demand that the town erect "Children at Play" signs on their street to reduce the risk of automobile-pedestrian accidents. Selectmen ask: What does the MUTCD say about "Children at Play" signs? If we erect a sign on one street, won't we get requests from other neighborhoods in town to do the same? What's the town's liability?
The short answer is DO NOT ERECT "Children at Play" signs. The long answer is a bit more complicated.
First, the "Children at Play" sign is unclear and unnecessary. It suggests to the driver that, if no such sign is present on another street, children are not playing there, and it is OK to speed or to be less careful. Another driver might interpret the sign to mean that children are playing in the road. Always? At what time of day?
Second, it gives parents and children a false sense of security. By relying on the sign, parents might monitor their children less closely and children might interpret the sign to mean it is acceptable to play in the street.
Third, one "Children at Play" sign leads to a proliferation of signs throughout the town. Since nearly every block has children living on it, there would have to be signs on each one. The effect of too many signs is that they become ineffective. The proliferation of signs breeds disrespect, not only for the specific signs, but for all signs.
Fourth, to erect "Children at Play" signs in response to one request usually generates similar requests, thereby basing sign placement on politics rather than on sound traffic engineering judgment.
Fifth, based on numerous studies, there is no evidence that "Children at Play" signs prevent injury or decrease the speed of vehicles.
Sixth, because they are confusing and do not meet specific criteria for good signing, placing "Children at Play" signs opens the municipality to liability.
Seventh, since all signs need to be maintained to be effective, the proliferation of unnecessary signs places an undue burden on maintenance crews. Purchasing, erecting and keeping these signs in good order is expensive.
For these reasons, the MUTCD discourages the use of "Children at Play" signs. However, municipalities can and should post signs for school zones, pedestrian crossings, and playgrounds. The MUTCD makes specific reference to these situations. Signing such areas gives clear messages to drivers about the kind of zone they are entering. "Children at Play" signs, on the other hand, do not meet a specific criteria.
Adapted from "Vermont Local Roads News"
This page last updated on 1/9/13
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