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Traffic and Transportation Division
38250 Sierra Highway
Palmdale, CA 93550
661/267-5300

Open Monday-Thursday
7:30 am-6 pm
Closed Friday

Traffic Safety Myths

What is a Myth?

A myth is an idea that forms part of the beliefs of a group but is not founded on fact. However, through many years of gathering facts on the impacts of traffic control devices and laws, actions based on facts rather than myths can improve traffic flow and safety. What some citizens may perceive as a difference of opinion is in reality myth vs. factual evidence.

Myth:

Changing a speed limit sign will significantly change the speed at which people drive.

Fact:

Most drivers drive at a speed they consider reasonable and comfortable regardless of the posted speed limit. "Before and after" studies have shown that there is no significant change in speeds following the posting of a revised speed limit. This is true whether the speed limit is increased or decreased. Speed limits provide notice to drivers of the maximum speed limit on a roadway and are an enforcement tool to assist police in separating violators from the reasonable majority. 

Myth:

Incidents occur with a greater frequency as the speed limit is increased.

Fact:

Incident frequencies have little relationship to the posted speed limit. However, incident severity may be impacted. In essence, a person driving significantly slower or faster than the majority of the other drivers is at a greater risk of being involved in an incident regardless of the speed limit. This is why police officers are concerned about enforcement of all speed limits.

Myth:

Marking crosswalks with paint and signs will improve safety.

Fact:

At locations away from Stop signs or traffic signals, crosswalks are typically not marked. It has been found that marking crosswalks at such locations typically increases the potential for incidents. Often pedestrians will assume the crosswalk provides a significant protection and they are less cautious in crossing the street. Marking the crosswalk may also attract pedestrians to an undesirable crossing location.

Myth:

Wearing white at night makes you visible to drivers.

Fact:

Even if you wear white clothes, drivers will have a hard time seeing you at night. Pedestrians should wear reflective clothing, carry a flashlight, walk facing traffic, and continue to assume drivers will not see them.

Myth:

The installation of a traffic signal will always improve safety.

Fact:

Some types of incidents (such as right angle or broadside) may be reduced in frequency with installation of a traffic signal. However, other types of incidents (such as rear end incidents) may increase with installation of a signal. When one street serves a much greater number of vehicles than the crossing street, the potential for an increase in the frequency of traffic incidents is higher. Other potential negative impacts may result when a signal is installed when not justified.

Myth:

Traffic signals are only installed when a fatal or severe incident occurs.

Fact:

Persons may hear of one incident, especially if a fatality occurs, and conclude that a traffic signal should be installed. Traffic signals do not necessarily reduce the frequency of incidents. In any case, making significant conclusions from a single or few incidents, especially without knowledge of the actual incident causes, will typically result in incorrect actions. If traffic signals were only installed when a fatal or a severe incident occurred, many times they would make no sense. For example, a driver under the influence of alcohol may run into a pole in the middle of a block. A traffic signal would not be appropriate in such a situation.

The vast majority of traffic signals are installed without a fatal accident first occurring. However, actions which result in fewer traffic incidents are rarely recognized. There is seemingly no impact of a traffic incident not occurring. There is no evidence, claim, court case, or media attention related to a particular incident when the incident is prevented.

Myth:

If a traffic sign is posted, then almost all drivers will obey it.

Fact:

If a sign is not reasonable a large percentage of drivers will ignore it. Therefore, signs should have a clear purpose and be installed based on experience. Unreasonable signs result in disrespect for the signs and officers that attempt to enforce them. In addition, unreasonable signs may create poor driving habits in the public. For example, if a Stop sign is placed where it is unjustified and drivers will violate it, then drivers may carry this poor practice to other locations where it is crucial to stop.

Myth:

Parking on the street is a driver’s right.

Fact:

There is no right of any person to park a vehicle on a public street. On-street parking is a privilege and recognized to be a convenience in many situations. However, when the parking of a vehicle begins to significantly impact traffic flow or safety, the parking privilege may be restricted. Typically, the more traffic a street serves, the greater the need to restrict parking.

Myth:

A green light means it is safe to cross a street.

Fact:

Whether walking or driving, a green light does not guarantee that vehicles will see you or yield to you. A green light should be considered as permission to cross, but only after carefully looking for potential conflicts. Look Left-Right-Left for vehicles. When clear, cross and stay observant.

Myth:

If the pedestrian sees the driver, then the driver sees the pedestrian.

Fact:

The driver may not see you.  Make certain the driver sees you and stops before crossing in front of a vehicle. Try to make eye contact with the driver.

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38300 Sierra Highway, Palmdale, CA 93550 · 661/267-5100 · 661/267-5122 - fax

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