To stop or not to stop; that is the question
From the September/October edition of The Driver magazine;
Should I stop or should I go?
For years there always seems to be a debate between stopping and slowing at a stop sign. Is there a difference and does it really matter? The short answer is yes there is a difference and yes it does matter. Let me explain what really happens when we approach a stop sign and what you can do to ensure your driving is as safe as possible.
I was speaking recently to a licensed driver who had a few driving problems. I had taken him out for a driving evaluation and noticed immediately that he rolled his stops. He wasn’t aware he was doing that until I explained to him what he was doing. As most people would do, he argued with me and was pretty certain he had stopped. To illustrate this point, I asked him to verbalize what he was doing when he came up to his next stop position. His conversation basically was as follows; “Coming to my stopping position; slowing down; checking the intersection. It’s clear so I can go.” And then he proceeded through the intersection without stopping.
No where in his dialogue was he actually saying that he felt the vehicle come to a stop. After he said he was slowing down, he immediately went into scanning the intersection. That’s the part that confuses many people. We are so concerned about continuing along to our destination, that we forget about stopping. Not only can this lead to a traffic violation, but also to a collision.
Our brain plays tricks on us when we’re stopping. Once you notice a stop sign you need to begin to slow down. After we feel the vehicle stop, we should then scan the intersection to see if it’s clear to enter. Once we see that it’s clear, we should proceed through the intersection. Drivers who roll stops often fool themselves into thinking they have stopped. For example, if you scan the intersection as you slow down and you notice that it’s clear, your brain tells you to go. Your brain told you it was clear, so you ended up bypassing the actual stopping process without realizing it.
The problem here is that you actually think you stopped. People have argued with me about this from time to time, and I also know they have argued with the police officer who pulled them over for a rolling stop. The driver actually believes they fully stopped. And why wouldn’t they? They were originally thinking about stopping, but then changed their thought process. Have you ever argued with someone, including your passenger, who said you rolled a stop?
Then there’s the person who says; “What’s the difference between stopping and slowing?” There’s a huge difference, but not in time. It reminds me of a joke I’ve told many times. If I hit you with a bat, would you like me to slow down or stop? See, there is a difference between slowing and stopping.
The driver I was out with recently said to me afterwards that it feels like he’s taking so much longer to get to his destinations because he has to come to a full stop. I worked it out to him like this; if you roll through 10 stops, at an average savings of 2 seconds per stop, you’ve saved a total of 20 seconds. Yes, 20 seconds. What activity could you possibly do that’s so worthwhile that you can do in those 20 seconds? The other part of this scenario is the fact that you may also be driving toward a traffic light which just turned red. That means you’re not saving much time at all because the rolling stops would have meant you would have reached the red light sooner.
Not only is it legal to make full stops, it allows you to properly scan the intersection. If you’re thinking about stopping first, then you’ll be looking for other road users who may be entering the intersection. This would include pedestrians, other drivers and cyclists. Rolling through may cause you to crash because you’re thinking about going instead of thinking about stopping. I usually have a ten minute walk from the parking lot to my office and many times I’ve had to stop walking through the crosswalk or had to walk quickly because a driver rolled through their stop. They only slowed down enough to make it look like they’ve stopped so they wouldn’t get a ticket. That’s not good enough for the safety of others.
I’ve witnessed many drivers also doing the dreaded rolling stop while turning right on a red light. Recently, I watched how a driver rolled through the red light so abruptly that they cut off another driver who had a green light. Remember, you may turn right on a red light if it’s clear of all other road users, drivers and pedestrians, but you must stop first. You need to change your mindset and think about stopping before proceeding.
If you feel this isn’t necessary, think again and take the responsibility drivers need to take. Be the bigger person and do what’s right. The big red octagon doesn’t mean “slow and go”. It means what is says, so let’s do it properly and safely.