We need a sign to warn kids about their dense elders

DAN RODRICKS

November 12, 1992|By DAN RODRICKS

I'm sure there's a big fat report somewhere -- more than 500 pages in a loose-leaf binder. I even have a hunch that taxpayers paid for it.

Who knows?

Maybe William Proxmire once gave it a Golden Fleece Award.

Let's imagine what its title might be:

Velocity Parameters of Automotive Thoroughfare Signage And The Hearing-Impaired Minor: Calculated Risk?

As I say, I'm just guessing at all this. I haven't seen the report that says a traffic sign warning of a deaf child is a bad idea.

Neither has Don Nelinson, a man I've known for more than 10 years and the father of a profoundly deaf child for the last five.

Nelinson called the other day, totally frustrated that he still can't get a deaf-child warning sign on his street in Mount Washington.

He says he first started calling City Hall about this a year and a half ago.

He and his wife, Joann Levy, had seen such signs in other communities around Baltimore.

Their 5-year-old daughter, Sarah, soon would take a bus each weekday morning to school, so they thought it would be wise to warn motorists on Sulgrave Avenue to be cautious as they drove by.

Nelinson called the city's Bureau of Transportation and requested a sign.

"The response was, 'We don't put up deaf-child warning signs,' " Nelinson recalled.

"I asked why. The person I talked to said, 'Research shows that motorists increase rather than decrease speed when they see the sign, and the signs give the deaf child a false sense of security.' "

This is about when I started scratching my head.

I know this Nelinson. He doesn't make up stuff.

He insists he was given this explanation not just once, but three times over the last 18 months as he sought to get a yellow-and-black sign that simply said, "Warning Deaf Child" or "Slow Deaf Child" on his street.

I have been trying to become one with the logic here.

Let's look at the first argument: Motorists actually accelerate when they see such a sign.

Right. Drivers see a sign warning of a deaf child, wildly scream, "Oh, God! A deaf child!" then hit the gas in the hopes of zipping through before the little munchkin comes bouncing into the street.

That's all I can figure. But, as I say, there is probably a 500-page government study that proves convincingly that warning signs encourage speeding.

Of course, I haven't seen it. Neither has Nelinson.

"After I heard this explanation, I said, 'I'm sure you're going to send me copies of this publicly funded research so I can read it.' And, of course, I've never seen it."

The other argument against the signs is that they give the deaf child a false sense of security.

That sounds more like speculation than conclusive finding. But, as I say, there is probably a government study that says it's so -- and an entire college of traffic experts who believe deaf children, knowing that warning signs have been erected in front of their homes, dart suicidally into the street.

Makes sense -- not!

"I called [City Council President] Mary Pat Clarke on the Tom Marr Show on WCBM," Nelinson said. "I had been listening to this show, where people call in about dying trees and people dropping bottles in their neighborhoods, and I started thinking, 'My kid goes to school five days a week. She waits for the bus in front of my house, and there's all this other drop-off traffic and school buses coming from Mount Washington Elementary School, and this is slightly more important than someone dropping a bottle in somebody's neighborhood.'

"So I called Mary Pat and she and Marr were very concerned, and they both reacted with indignation and disbelief."

Within two days, a member of Clarke's staff asked Nelinson where he wanted the sign.

"I thought something was going to happen," he says. "But I didn't hear anything."

A couple of months went by. Then, in September, Nelinson got through to the acting traffic commissioner and got the same story.

Same thing happened when Nelinson spoke to a lower-level transit official.

So there seemed to be general agreement, all the way down the line, that a sign warning of a deaf child is a bad idea.

I must be missing something.

When the 500-page report lands on my desk, I'll let you know.

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