Traffic engineers use signal lights, stop signs and speed limits as ways to improve the safety of our roadways for motorists and pedestrians.
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A stop sign is a valuable and effective control devices when used at the right place and under the right conditions. It is intended to help drivers and pedestrians at an intersection decide who has the right-of-way. However, when stop signs are installed as “nuisances” or “speed breakers,” there is a high incidence of intentional violation. Therefore, stop signs should not be used as speed control devices.
The city is responsible for the installation of stop signs on city streets. The city uses nationally recognized traffic control guidelines to determine whether a stop sign is warranted. A stop sign is installed when traffic conditions, such as volume and accident history, topography of the area and human factors, such as pedestrian use, determine it is necessary.
Some common misuse of stop signs is to arbitrarily interrupt through traffic, either by causing it to stop or by causing such an inconvenience as to force the traffic to use other routes. Where stop signs are installed as “nuisances” or “speed breakers,” there is a high incidence of intentional violation. In those locations where vehicles do stop, the speed reduction is effective only in the immediate vicinity of the stop sign, and frequently speeds are actually higher between intersections. For these reasons, it should not be used as a speed control device.
A school crossing may look dangerous, but adding a stop sign might make the intersection worse. Children can often cross the street where there are normal, periodic gaps in traffic. Putting stop signs at a location can actually eliminate these periodic gaps, creating a situation of indecision for pedestrians and motorists.
When stop signs are installed at an intersection, motorists become accustomed to the intersections and do not necessarily notice anything out of the ordinary when children are present. Crossing guards that are only present when they are needed are a more effective and desirable option than permanent stop signs in alerting motorists of the need to watch for children crossing the road.
Most drivers are reasonable and prudent with no intention of maliciously violating traffic regulations; however, when an unreasonable restriction is imposed, it may result in flagrant violations. In such cases, the stop sign can create a false sense of security in a pedestrian and an attitude of contempt in a motorist. These two attitudes can and often do conflict with tragic results.
Well-developed, nationally recognized guidelines help to indicate when such controls become necessary. These guidelines take into consideration, among other things, the probability of vehicles arriving at an intersection at the same time, the length of time traffic must wait to enter, and the availability of safe crossing opportunities.
Pedestrian crosswalk marking is a method of encouraging pedestrians to use a particular crossing. Such marked crossings may not be as safe as an unmarked crossing at the same location. Therefore, crosswalks should be marked only where necessary for the guidance and control of pedestrians, to direct them to the safest potential routes.
It is a common belief that posting a speed limit sign will influence drivers to drive at that speed. Facts indicate otherwise. Research shows that drivers are influenced more by the appearance of the road itself and the prevailing traffic conditions than by the posted speed limit.
The maximum speed limit for any passenger vehicle in Minnesota is as follows:
- Freeways outside urban districts – 65 or 70 miles per hour
- Urban freeway and highways – 55 or 60 miles per hour
- Residential streets – 30 miles per hour
- Alleys in urban districts – 10 miles per hour
The speed limits are not always posted but all motorists are required to know these basic speed laws.
Intermediate speed limits between 30 and 55 miles per hour may be established by the Minnesota Department of Transportation based on traffic engineering surveys. These surveys include an analysis of roadway conditions, accident records and the prevailing speed of prudent drivers. If speed limit signs are posted for a lower limit than is needed to safely meet these conditions, many drivers will simply ignore the signs, thus increasing conflict between faster and slower drivers, reducing the gaps in traffic through which crossings could be made safety and making it more difficult for pedestrians to judge the speed of approaching vehicles. Studies have shown that when uniformity of speed is not maintained, accidents generally increase.
The courts have held public agencies liable for personal injuries resulting from faulty design. Increased hazard to the unwary; challenges to the daredevils; disruption of the movement of both emergency and service vehicles; and undesirable increase in noise have caused speed bumps to be officially rejected as a standard traffic control device on public streets and alleys.
Although some other states have posted such signs in residential areas, no factual evidence has been presented to document their success in reducing pedestrian accidents, operating speeds or legal liability. Studies have shown that many types of signs attempting to warn of normal conditions in residential areas have failed to achieve the desired safety benefits. If signs encourage parents and children to believe they have an added degree of protection, which the signs do not and cannot provide, a great disservice results.
Because of these serious considerations, Minnesota law does not recognize, and Federal Standards discourage, use of “Children at Play” signs. Specific warnings for schools, playgrounds, parks and other recreational facilities are available for use where clearly justified. Children should not be encouraged to play within the street. The sign has long been rejected since it is a direct and open suggestion that this behavior is acceptable.