So I Was in an Accident...

I drove my car into a ditch a fwe hours ago. It was only by good fortune there were no injuries. Things could have been much worse. This worries me as I think the intersection itself guarantees people will result in people doing exactly what I did. I'm going to try to write some thoughts on this tonight while everything is fresh.

To summarize what I'm going to say, I will offer two contentions. 1) A standard four-way intersection should not be designed so that traveling in a straight line through it will result driving into a 6+ foot ditch and creating a significant risk of bodily injury. 2) Should such an intersection exist, any signage intended to warn drivers should be placed with extra care to ensure they are abundantly clear and visible. When neither of these are true, I believe an unacceptable risk of accidents is created.

Before I say more, I want to be clear when approaching this intersection, I did see a stop sign. I misinterpreted the intended meaning of the stop sign, and as such, I failed to stop at the intersection. Because I failed to stop at the intersection, my speed was such that I had no opportunity to avoid going into the ditch when I drove in a straight line through the intersection.

To explain how driving in a straight line through an intersection results in driving into a ditch, I've made a diagram to attempt to show the layout of the intersection. As a word of caution, I have not returned to the scene or taken any pictures/measurements so this is only an approximation:

As you can see, this is a four-way intersection in which the roads are perpendicular to one another. However, whereas most four-way intersections have lanes which flow in a continuous pattern, the lanes in one direction do not line up. On one side of the intersection, the lanes are shifted by approximately two thirds the width of a lane. The result is any vehicle traveling in a straight line on one of those lanes through the intersection will find themselves far off the road.

What this diagram does not show is what one will encounter upon going off the road in this fashion. For at least one direction, the answer is a steep ditch, whose depth is at least six feet. This ditch does not have a gradual slope one might drive down, but rather, a rather sharp drop off. It is sharp enough a car could (and at least one car has already) flip end over end upon driving off it.

I believe the design of this intersection creates a significant risk of drivers getting in accidents. This belief is supported by the comments of several responders who showed up to the scene of my accident, who spoke of the relative commonness of people experiencing accidents in the same fashion as I did. One such responder remarked it seemed they had such an accident once a week. (As he was stating a casual impression, I would not expect the actual frequency to be that high.)

Given the risks involved with traveling through this intersection, I believe it is reasonable to expect any signage at the intersection intended to warn drivers to be installed and maintained with greater than usual rigor. The opposite appears to have been true in this case. Here is the same diagram as above, showing the approximate placement of the relevant signage:

Of note, while this is a four-way intersection, there are stop signs only for vehicles traveling in one direction. This means a driver approaching the intersection as I did will only see one stop sign on a corner of their side of the intersection. A stop sign on their left should be parallel to the road they are traveling on, and it should be intended for people traveling crosswise. A stop sign on their right should be perpendicular to the road they are traveling on, and it should be intended for them.

In this case, the stop sign was neither parallel nor perpendicular to any road. Instead, it was at a ~45 degree angle to both roads. In my case, I saw the sign but judged the angle to be facing more toward the crosswise road than my own, and as such, mistakenly thought I was on the road which did not need to stop at this intersection. (I failed to realize the sign being on the right side meant that interpretation was wrong.)

I don't believe these issues absolve me of responsibility for my accident. I am sure I will be kicking myself for the accident for quite some time. However, I cannot understand how an intersection such as this could be considered safe or appropriate. I believe the intersection is unacceptably dangerous. The fact it continues to exist in its current form despite a disturbing number of accidents like mine seems intolerable.

I don't want to make excuses for what happened. I made a mistake in how I interpreted the stop sign I saw. I know this. However, I believe the severity of that mistake is mitigated by the abysmal placement of the sign. Even if that were not true, I believe it is entirely unacceptable for a failure to abide a stop sign to result in the immediate risk of death despite the lack of involvement of any other vehicle.

In simple turms, I don't think one should run the risk of totalling their car and possibly dying simply because they ran a stop sign on a road with no traffic. That consequence seems too extreme.

10 comments

  1. Glad you are physically OK. Intersections with offsets like this should have blinking red lights or at least four-way stop signs and guard rails at the corners blocking access to the ditches. Looks like the highway engineers failed to make this a safe intersection. You might have grounds for reimbursement of damages to your vehicle.

  2. Thanks Gary. I still can't believe the intersection was like that. I'm fortunate in that the damage to my car didn't seem too significant (though I have to wait on the mechanic to find out if there was more damage than it seemed). Combine that with having insurance, and it's not a huge deal. My problem is I just can't figure out how much I was at fault. Should the count cover my costs because their intersection is obscene? Maybe, but there was a stop sign. I could have realized it was intended for me... even though it wasn't directed toward me.

    The fact there have been many other accidents in this exact spot, for the exact reason I had mine, definitely suggests to me someone else is at least partially culpable. Still, I feel weird saying it wasn't my fault. I don't want to make excuses. Plus, even if I think someone else is at fault, I'm not sure it'd be worth trying to do anything about it. How much time/cost would there be to try to do anything?

    That said, I was given a ticket for this, with the offense listed as "FAIL TO REDUCE SPEED." It's only a $120 fine, and I don't even need to go to court for it. That's way less troublesome than if I try to plead not guilty and have a trial. Still, I'm not sure I can plead guilty. Not only is there the fear of additional costs (e.g. insurance rates going up), I just don't know that I can accept that I was criminally negligent in this matter. I wasn't traveling at an unsafe speed. I was going under the speed limit, and if the road had continued through the intersectionb in anything resembling a straight line, there'd have been no accident.

    Heck, even if I had slowed down by 15 MPH, I don't think I could have avoided this. There's just no safe speed to travel at. You have to come to a stop at that intersection to be safe. I wasn't given a ticket for running a stop sign, so presumably they're not saying my failure to stop was an offense. And if it wasn't, then what offense was there?

  3. By the way, the weirdest part of this ticket to me is the relevant clause of the statue I supposedly violated is:

    Speed must be decreased as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person or vehicle on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care.

    I didn't collide with any person or vehicle. One could try to argue the fact there was an accident means i Must have failed to reduce speed (which is the reasoning the officer used), but I was already travelling under the speed limit. There were no weather conditions which impaired my vision. If there was any vehicle or person in the road, I'd have been able to stop as well as in any other circumstance.

    I wasn't given a ticket for failing to stop at a stop sign. I was given a ticket for failing to reduce speed. If one feels I wasn't at fault for failing to stop, then I don't see how one can argue I was at fault for failing to slow down. It's not that I was traveling too fast to see some impediment. There was a hole in the ground directly in front of where drivers are going, and there was nothing to indicate that. What did I fail to slow down for?

  4. Setting aside your personal feelings about the citation, this might be an opportunity to make the intersection safer by bringing it to the attention of the court and/or public officials. I assume there were no witnesses. How can anyone know you didn't reduce speed? You admit failing to stop, but that isn't what was cited. You might have an argument for appealing the ticket, but I completely understand that the risk of further costs might be unacceptable.

  5. Gary, I think the first thing I should do is (once my car is back from the mechanic) drive out to the intersection and examine it in broad daylight. Then, if things are as I remember them, take a number of pictures so everyone involved can see what the situation was. I have three weeks before I need to submit a plea of not guilty if I want to take the ticket to trial, so that's plenty of time to document things.

    Once I've done that, my tentative plan is to plead not guilty and request a trial date. Along with my plea, I'll submit a letter to the DA's office explaining the situation and why I feel the ticket is wrong, most likely with several pictures. That may be enough to make them void the ticket. If so, I'll probably drop the matter. If not, and I have to fight the ticket in court, then maybe I'll try seeking reimbursement.

    Though honestly, I have no idea how I'd go about doing that. I wish I had lawyer friends.

  6. If you just pay the fine, the ticket will likely be reported to insurance. Pay $250 for the lawyer and contest it.

  7. "Before I say more, I want to be clear when approaching this intersection, I did see a stop sign. I misinterpreted the intended meaning of the stop sign, and as such, I failed to stop at the intersection. "

    that there is downright funny

    seem I recall some other traffic signage problems, lucia dissucion year ago.. what was that again?

    psst the stop sign meant stop. you didnt misinterpret the meaning, you misidentified the intended audience.

  8. Steven Mosher, I know you like your dickish ankle-biter antics, but this is really pathetic. I don't know what the first part of your comment was about, but this sort of thing:

    psst the stop sign meant stop. you didnt misinterpret the meaning, you misidentified the intended audience.

    Reeks of desperation. When a sign is intended for a certain subset of viewers, part of the meaning of that sign is the distinction of who it applies to. If a sign means people on one road should stop but you interpret it to mean people on a different road should stop, you have misinterpreted the meaning of the sign.

    I eagerly await your next obnoxious comment where you try to find a way to pretend a sign for the women's bathroom doesn't mean it's a bathroom for women. but only means it is a bathroom.

  9. "Reeks of desperation. When a sign is intended for a certain subset of viewers, part of the meaning of that sign is the distinction of who it applies to. If a sign means people on one road should stop but you interpret it to mean people on a different road should stop, you have misinterpreted the meaning of the sign."

    Err no. The meaning of the sign stop is..... STOP.

    and even you realize the distinction and importance of audience

    "I could have realized it was intended for me."

    whether or not it is intended for you doesnt change the meaning. It means stop.

    If I show you a picture of a stop sign and ask you what it means, it means..... STOP.
    whether you are on a road or not on a road, looking at a picture of the sign, or seeing the sign in a movie .. it means.

    stop.

    Now, whether that command is directed at you is a secondary issue WRT the meaning of the sign.

    When I see a stop sign in a movie I have no doubt it is not intended for me. Nevertheless it means stop.
    It just doesnt apply to me. If you asked me "hey what does that stop sign in the movie mean?" I wouldnt say
    I dont know, its not intended for me. I wouldnt say, "it means stop to the people in the movie" It means stop.
    And of course I know that the stop sign in the movie is not intended for me. That doesnt change the meaning

  10. Steven Mosher, the fact you wrote all of that without addressing what I said in the comment you pretended to respond to only reinforces the whole "reeks of desperation" thing. Even if someone thinks i am wrong, the fact you put so much effort into ignoring the point I made* only serves to suggest you can't respond to the point I made.

    What's interesting is I can point to many quotations from you which contradict your claims of how the meaning of a sign should be interpreted, including many comments you directed at me. That's because your obfuscation here is due to your desire to criticize me, not to have a coherent viewpoint.

    Segue, I met a guy who collected road signs as a hobby. He displayed many of them on walls. If he had a stop sign hanging on a wall, nobody would seriously claim that meant to stop. That's because we understand signs, like all symbols, gain meaning via things like context. It's the same as with words, as words are ultimately just a form of symbols. When you see the word "stop" on your computer screen, you don't automatically interpret it as an imperative statement telling you to stop. That's because the meaning of any symbol is determined in part by the context in which it is used. Mosher has made that point many times. He knows it to be true. He knows what he's saying here isn't true. He's just desperate to find ways to criticize me. QED Kappa

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