It seems a shame, doesnít it, to have to spend a substantial amount of money on stop signs at every uncontrolled intersection in Winona because people donít understand the rules of the road. Further, it defies logic to choose to acquiesce to ignorance of the written word of law in favor of the unwritten local rule. The City Council is mulling just such an expenditure.
Some of us were 16 years old a long time ago. However, way back when we took the test to get our driverís license, here is what it said, and still says, in the little booklet we were tested on:
ďRight-of-way and yielding laws help traffic flow smoothly and safely. They are based on courtesy and common sense. Violation of these laws is a leading cause of traffic crashes.
ďWhen two vehicles reach an intersection at the same time, and there is no traffic light or signal, the driver of the vehicle on the left must yield to the vehicle on the right.Ē
It seems a simple rule. Most of us know our left hand from our right.
Ten years ago or so, there was a lively discussion in the letters to the editor section of this paper about uncontrolled intersections. Some people swore that east-west traffic always had the right-of-way, even though there doesnít seem to be any evidence to back up such a claim, and it is counter to state law. Others recalled the driverís manual, which lays out the rule as above. And then there was a newcomer to town, a professor at one of the colleges, who wrote that he felt that the rule was this: if he didnít have a sign indicating he should stop, he just kept going, apparently no matter what else was in his way.
Like my father used to mutter to bad drivers, ďWhereíd you get your driverís license? The post office?Ē Apparently, driverís tests were a relatively new thing when my dad was a young man.
The first driverís licenses were issued in 1903 by the unlikely allies Missouri and Massachusetts. I found a copy of a driverís license issued in 1899 in Massachusetts to a man allowing him to drive on parkways in an electric car. The license was signed by the secretary of the Boston Park Board. Massachusetts didnít require a test to obtain a license until 1920, and Missouri didnít have a test until 1952! Minnesota didnít have a driverís test until 1948, and Wisconsin waited until 1956 ó along with Alaska, the latest in the Union. According to a history of driverís licenses, in the early days, most people were taught to drive by car salesmen.
By the time I could think about getting a driverís license, drivers ed., as we called it, was a high school elective. Our class was taught by a man named Mr. Smith. He always wore a bow tie and liked to tell jokes. (He called my classmate Judy Bright ďNot So,Ē which she didnít seem to mind, because she really was very bright. Mr. Smith might have had a hard time in todayís school climate.) In any case, it was a school subject, and we were tested accordingly.
Back to our present situation. We could soon have to stop a lot more than we do now, apparently because some people get confused as to what is the correct way to drive a car around town. It certainly will take some adjustment on the part of those of us who have been trained to look both ways as we approach an intersection. At first we wonít be able to trust that cars will always stop for a sign. They certainly blow through the intersection at Second and Lafayette on a regular basis, and I believe that stop sign has been up for over a decade.
There apparently is not a record compiled of accidents at uncontrolled intersections in Winona, so we are acting on anecdotal evidence that we need all those stop signs. Whatever happens next should be interesting.