Sign language
An essay by Tom Knapp,
September 1999

The car stereo was cranked and my windows were down so I could enjoy the hot summer wind. My spirits were high and I was making good time on the Pennsylvania Turnpike one sunny August afternoon when I saw the sign: Bridge May Be Icy.

My hands tensed on the steering wheel and beads of sweat appeared on my forehead. I mentally prepared to brake as my eyes darted nervously, scanning for tell-tale signs of treacherous road conditions ahead. Sure, the last few bridges were fine, but you can never be too wary when there's ice in the neighborhood....

Sometimes I wonder how often a warning must be drilled into the American mind. Does every bridge need the above warning (or a variant, such as Bridge Freezes Before Road or, perhaps, You're Taking Your Life in Your Hands If You Go Any Further) to make driving safe?

Perhaps we could eliminate the need for these hackneyed cautions if every applicant for a driver's license had to answer the following question: Bridges freeze before road surfaces, true or false? Answer with a "true" and the license is yours. Say "false" and it's public transit for you for the rest of your life.

I suppose in this lawsuit-oriented country, it's the highway department's way to cover its collective butt. Put a sign before every bridge and some litigious nut won't have an excuse to sue the state when his car slides. I suppose it's too much to ask that people learn how to drive before driving, and then take responsibility for their own actions once they're behind a wheel.

On the other hand, just how much of our landscape needs to be labeled with warnings for the memory-impaired? Do we need a warning posted on any and every potentially hazardous surface?

Maybe we do. So, in the interest of public safety, here are some other caveats the highway department should consider adding to our roads:

Median barricade inhibits lane-crossing.

Curve discourages linear progress.

Trees may cause damage to cars when struck.

Without these warnings, how will our American drivers remember?

On the other hand ... I wonder how many accidents have been caused by drivers who took their eyes off the road while straining to read a roadside sign....

[ by Tom Knapp ]