The Safety Sign Blindness Syndrome

My late friend Kaye Mulvey and I had an on-going discussion about driving the speed limit.  Kaye was a proponent of driving as fast as she felt was “safe” whether it exceeded posted limits or not.  She considered me a wimpy driver and once said to me in a somewhat derisive tone, “I’ll bet you slow to the suggested speeds around curves, too!”  I conceded that she was right and I think of her every time we drive to and from South Bend.

Like last night, coming home from Seattle, Nyel (a proponent of what I’ve come to call “Kaye’s Way on the Hiway”) was the one at the wheel.  I was white-knuckling and biting my tongue.  During the sixteen-mile stretch from Johnson’s Landing to our turn at Sandridge Road, we both took note of the new signs – or at least we think they are new.  Each time we approached a curve, a DO NOT PASS sign appeared.  Immediately thereafter, a PASS WITH CARE sign would show up.  Over and over and over again.  (It’s a very curvy stretch of road.)

I wish I’d have counted how many.  It actually became humorous – a grand distraction for Sydney-the-Wimp.  “Whatever happened to noticing the solid yellow lines on the highway?” Nyel asked several times.  “Would you even have time to pass between a PASS WITH CARE sign and the immediately forthcoming DO NOT PASS sign?” I wondered.  Distracting became annoying.  And I began to ask myself when those signs had gone up and if we had just not noticed them before.  Had we become sign blind?

When we got home, late though it was, I looked up sign blindness.  It must be some sort of phenomenon or syndrome, I thought.  And, sure enough!  There is an entire article called “Overcoming Safety Signs Blindness.”  It is written by a man named David Arnold and begins:  Having worked in the safety signs industry for more years than is good for a person, I have come across the phrase ‘Sign blindness’ on numerous occasions. In my experience it invariably tends to be used in one of two ways: Cluster Sign Blindness and Familiarity Sign Blindness.

He goes on to talk about those two problems, what surveys have found, and the suggested solutions to be considered.  I don’t think WSDOT got the memo.  Not the part on Cluster Sign Blindness, anyway.   I also see (doncha love Google!) that the signs cost $21.95 plus $5.00 shipping fee from Amazon.  Plus the cost of installation.  Times how many signs?    Our highway taxes at work.

One Response to “The Safety Sign Blindness Syndrome”

  1. Frank Wolfe says:

    The signs are “temporary” and have been erected as part of the “rumble strip project” on 101. The process of grinding the “gashes” in the center of the road (so your tires will sound like they are coming off your car and your steering wheel will jerk in your hands when you start to cross the center-line) obliterates the (recently re-applied) paint lines. So the signs have to be put in place until such time as the paint lines are re-applied. As Nyel pointed out, we would normally take our “pass/no-pass” cue from the paint lines.

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