A refresher on the meaning of `yield'


July 30, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LAST WEEK'S column on the color of yield yielded quite a response. Here's a sample of what you had to say.

Ellicott City resident Maj. George Spence said, "I really enjoyed reading your `Yield Signs Are Red' article. I've been asking people what color yield signs are ever since: they all say `yellow.' Your article also settled a long-standing argument between my soon-to-be wife and me. She had a long-held position that a red yield sign meant you had to come to a complete stop before merging, and a yellow yield sign meant you can just keep going. Fortunately, she did not actually drive like that, but she would defend other drivers whom I'd curse for stopping in a merge lane. I'd told her `there is no such thing as a yellow yield sign.' Your article vindicated me."

Valerie Burnette Edgar, the communications director for the State Highway Administration, confirmed that the red-and-white yield signs are standard throughout the United States. She also mentioned a set of books her young son has, with "talking character" traffic signs. The Mr. Yield character says, "I'm a yellow triangle turned upside down." "And he is yellow," she said. "I'll be writing to the publisher!"

"No matter what color yield signs are, most people just don't know what to do when they see one," said Nikki Thomas. She spoke of the ramp onto Route 100 east from Centre Park Drive: "It is a somewhat awkward ramp to encounter since it is an extremely sharp turn, but c'mon. If drivers were paying attention, they would see that there is an entire lane to pick up speed and merge onto Route 100. This is so bad that I find myself sometimes going around the people stopped just to show them that there is a lane," she said.

Thomas' solution for drivers who seem to be unable to read signs is to have everyone tested when they have their license renewed.

Not a bad idea. Just because someone's been driving a long time does not mean they know how to drive. And traffic laws do change - sometimes without being noticed by drivers.

Steven Marini, who lives in Columbia, suggested that I review what yield signs actually mean. "Your article almost missed the point completely," he said. "You should have been asking people, `What do you do if you have a yield sign in your lane?' You barely touched on this at the end of the article. And the answer is not `yield.' It's `stop.'"

No, actually, the correct answer is: "yield." Here's what the Maryland Driver's Handbook says about yield signs: "Slow down as you approach a YIELD sign. Look left and right. Yield to pedestrians and vehicles." It also says, "You must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle or pedestrian in or approaching the intersection, stopping if necessary. Having so yielded to any vehicle or pedestrian, you shall not proceed until such movement can be made in safety." And not just your safety, but theirs as well.

It's clear that this manual should be required reading for all drivers, not just new ones. It's free from the Motor Vehicle Administration at any MVA location. An "MVA express office" is in Columbia, at Columbia Business Center, 6490 Dobbin Road.

Marini also said, "And please remind Sherry Kersey that the speed limit is NOT a speed minimum. On multiple lane roads, slower traffic should stay to the right, but there is no need for these drivers to travel at the speed limit. It may be that their vehicles are not able to maintain higher speeds or they are carrying a load of cargo in the trunk or there may be some other mechanical problem. Or they simply believe that slower is more prudent. That is their choice."

Well, yes and no. Again, I consulted the Maryland Drivers Handbook, which recommends "Never drive so slowly as to interfere with other vehicles moving at normal speeds" except "when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation." In other words, go the normal speed, i.e., posted speed, unless weather or traffic conditions make that speed unsafe. Furthermore, it says "many accidents are caused by drivers who block or hinder other traffic by driving at a speed that is too low" and "studies have shown that the more you depart from the traffic speed, either faster or slower, the greater your chances are of having an accident."

I would add that if you're carrying cargo or driving a vehicle that cannot go the posted speed for whatever reason, make sure your emergency flashers are on, and, if possible, stay off major highways. If you absolutely must use major roads, stay to the right. If you're on a two-lane road, every once in a while pull over to let the traffic stacking up behind you around. Although that might not be the law, it's certainly courteous.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or send faxes to 410-715-2816.

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