Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 8, 2003

S-T-O-P

“Stop – To cease moving, progressing, acting or operating; come to a halt.” ~ www.dictionary.com

It’s pathetic, really, that I’ve felt the need to include the definition of a four-letter, one-syllable, common word in this column. But I’m convinced that a disturbing number of South County residents don’t know the meaning of this simple, first-grade word.

What has led me to this stunning conclusion? Driving around Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy.

Here’s the deal. When you see one of those distinctive, octagonal red signs with the letters S-T-O-P at an intersection, your vehicle must cease all forward motion. You must then look for oncoming traffic, determine that it is safe and that you have the right-of-way before driving.

I walk my daughter to school every morning. The number of drivers who don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word stop – yes, it applies if you’re turning right, too – is disheartening. Many drivers also don’t seem to understand that if there are pedestrians in the crosswalk, they must stop until the crosswalk is clear.

Drivers often proceed through the intersection, even if they can’t clear the crosswalk, so they won’t have to wait the minute or two for the children going to or from school to cross the street. But at my daughter’s school, crossing guards won’t allow pedestrians to cross if a vehicle blocks any portion of the crosswalk. This means that dozens of students and parents are frequently stuck at the corner for several minutes until traffic clears enough for the selfish driver to clear the crosswalk.

Then there are the drivers who don’t understand that when that distinctive, octagonal red sign with the letters S-T-O-P is mounted to a school bus, and that sign is displayed and the cool flashing lights are blinking, drivers on both sides of the road have to stop.

“Failure to do so is a violation of VC §22454. You may be fined up to $1,000 and your driving privilege could be suspended for a period of one year.” That’s what California Department of Motor Vehicles Web site says about ignoring a school bus stop sign.

The only exception is when the bus is on the opposite side of a multilane or divided highway.

Yet I can’t count how often I see drivers pass buses displaying flashing stop signs. Drivers behind me have even honked angrily when I’ve stopped for a school bus. Many moons ago during my driver’s ed class, my teacher heavily emphasized that failure to respect a school bus stop sign was a vile and heinous act committed only by the most despicable drivers.

Apparently, judging by the drivers I’ve seen near crosswalks and school buses, we’ve lost our concern for the safety of school children.

But it’s not just stop signs that drivers ignore – it’s also stop lights. Here’s a review: Red means stop. The fact that stop signs and stop lights are both red should be a helpful memory aid.

When my traffic light turns green, it means your traffic light turned yellow, then red, long enough ago for you to have stopped. I shouldn’t have to wait while my light is green for any portion of your vehicle to clear the intersection. If I do, it means you’re a red-light runner. But I frequently have to wait for multiple cars to clear the intersection while my traffic signal blazes green.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, I’m not alone in my frustration and dismay. More than 96 percent of drivers say they fear they’ll be hit by a red-light runner when they enter an intersection. Yet, the FHWA reports, more than 55 percent of drivers admit to running a red light.

Why do people run red lights? According to the FHWA survey, nearly half of respondents said it was because – drum roll please – they were in a hurry.

Put another way, people run red lights because they deem saving a minute or two on their schedule to be more important than the lives and welfare of the people with whom they share the road.

That’s pathetic.

I don’t know if my treatise on the importance of the word ‘stop’ will make a difference. I can only hope.

But I do know the fact that we so often can’t be bothered to stop – not for anything so esoteric as smelling the roses or our counting our blessings, but for so something as basic as not injuring or killing our neighbors – speaks volumes about our community, and not one word of it is good.

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