Sign Insult 2 – Don’t Assume I Drive or That Driving Is Safe

Posted on 07/27/2012


Earlier this week, I posted about a sign that cautioned pedestrians where I thought drivers were to blame… continuing Bikas scintilating sign series, today I take on a pair of similar signs, starting with this one:

Sign on Mitchell Avenue in Tustin, CA

This sign is in Tustin, California, about an hour’s train ride southeast of Los Angeles. It’s the suburb where I grew up. It’s a place where I bike often, in the past to visit mom, lately to visit my brother and his family.


And here’s a similar one:

Sign on South Robertson

This sign is in West Los Angeles, on Roberson near Cadillac. It’s in the SORO neighborhood, very near the art gallery where my work is in an art show is up until August 15th.

This sign says “Drive Carefully / Children at Play.”

I find these signs reminiscent of beer advertisements that say things like “Budweiser asks you to drink responsibly.” You and I know that Budweiser wants us to drink plenty of alcohol, whether responsibly or not.

My biggest beef with “Drive Carefully” signs is that they assume that I am a driver. By addressing drivers only, the sign legitimizes driving, and de-legitimizes other ways of getting around. Personally, I find it very irritating to be commanded (by these signs) to drive. No thanks, Mr. Sign, I am getting around just fine without driving. Please don’t assume I drive.

The second assumtion that the signs make is that “careful” driving is safe. Driving cars kills people. It’s not a few bad apples. Not just the folks who maybe forgot to read these reminder signs. Even if a specific driver goes all his or her life without personally killing someone, that person contributes to a system that is doing the killing. The roads are widened and lengthened, the speed limits are raised, the capacity increased, because policy-makers perceive that everyone is out there driving.

Driving’s death toll is predictable. Worldwide it’s a million people a year, in the U.S. it’s 30,000 each year (source). California roads kill about 3000 people annually (source). And that’s just the kills – there’s also injuries, pollution-related disease, inactivity-related disease, the global warming stuff, and more.

If you really want safe streets, then you need to (at least some of the time) get out of the car – and walk, bike, take transit. If you want to drive carefully, drive less or not at all.

So… WWBD? Maybe wording like: “Driving kills – Please walk, bike, or if you drive, drive slowly and carefully” or some kind of emotionally-intelligent signage – for example: “Don’t run over my daughter” or something like that. The examples above are trying to be emotionally-intelligent; they do mention children… but I think that they don’t play that note strongly enough.

But really, do we need more signs? In L.A., we’ve got plenty of signs and we’re still killing lots of people all over. Is installing a sign a non-solution that makes status quo folks feel good without actually addressing the problem? Better to put the money into stuff that invites walking, bicycling, transit: put in benches, trees, crosswalks, bike lanes, etc. instead of signage targeted toward drivers.  For more discussion on this read about “naked streets” including the work of Hans Monderman.

What do you think? How should signs like these be worded? Or should they exist at all?

Posted in: insults