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Consider stopping at the sign

By T.J. Ray

It stands there boldly, its bright read octagon redness underscoring the simple lettering on its face: S — T — O — P.

Nowadays it may be bordered by a string of small flashing red lights. Someone with authority caused it to stand on a corner of an intersection. If two streets converge there, the sign is often replicated at each of the four corners. Despite a longstanding joke, it does not stand for Stomp Toe on Peddle.

The folks who had the signs put up expect vehicles — two and four wheels — to stop moving briefly at the sign. Failure to comply sometimes results in the violator having to pay a small fine. But often the number of vehicles stopping at the sign is outnumbered by far by those slowing (or not slowing) and rolling past the sign. Perhaps it is because these incidents often have no negative consequence that those drivers or riders become more accustomed to ignoring stop signs.

Honesty compels me to acknowledge that I run such signs, especially if they are in an empty parking lot or on a remote country road intersection or it’s 4 a.m. and I see no lights nearby. Such a daring violation recently conjured up a question in my mind. Other than a ticket a driver might be hit with for driving past a stop sign, what is the significance of the event?

One significance is simply that it’s illegal (though I have questions about the legality of stop signs in shopping center lots). A duly authorized agency has determined that a penalty may follow turning a blind eye to that red marker.

Perhaps one might think such an act is unethical. In other words, driving past those large white letters is surely not conformance to accepted standards of conduct.

Another perspective might hold the act to be immoral. Some folks may say the deed conflicts with generally or traditionally held moral principles. The feeling after a successful challenge to a stop sign, however, is usually not guilt but rather a smug feeling of success in having beaten the system and gotten away with it. (See arrogance below!)

Might it be that such an act simply indicates stupidity? Maybe the driver can’t read?

Maybe his literate cousin took the driver’s license test for him. Would a gentle judge forgive stupidity?

Finally, the act may be a show of arrogance. The driver assumes a right to blow past a stop sign while other mere mortals waste time and braking energy coming to a complete stop.

Now get out there and challenge the law, or your code of ethics, or your moral code, or the simpletons who actually stop at stop signs. And hope you don’t meet that guy with the blue lights and sunshades sitting close by.

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at tjmaryjo@bellsouth.net.