Street sign theft is often a favorite pastime of bored teenagers and people looking to cause a little mischief. More often than not, they’re stealing a sign they find humorous—mile markers for 420 and 666 are the top signs stolen each year according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). Other popular thefts are street signs of people’s last names (ex. “Howard”) or commercial or road signage representing a double entendre (ex. “Deliveries in Rear”).
While street and road sign theft might seem funny, it can have unintended consequences that are very real, and often very dangerous. Removing critical highway signs in Vermont creates confusion for pedestrians and motorists alike:
- If traffic signs are removed, drivers can’t act accordingly. For example, removing a “one-way” traffic sign may cause drivers to believe it’s a two-way street. An accident is bound to occur. The same goes true for things like stop signs, merge signs, no parking signs and more. Without the sign front and center to tell a motorist how to act, they won’t! This almost invariably leads to accidents.
- In situations where pedestrians are present, removing road signs is all the more dangerous. For example, removing a “slow, children” sign from a school zone, motorists may not take heed of their environment. This could result in driving too fast and not allowing themselves enough time to brake in the event of schoolchildren blocking the road.
- Stealing mile marker highway signs in Vermont may seem like a victimless crime, but it can breed confusion on the road. Many drivers—including long-haul truckers—use mile marker signs to help them determine when they need to exit the highway. Missing mile markers can cause drivers to panic when they finally realize where they are! Shooting over several lanes to make an exit or braking suddenly to get over is a fast way to create an accident.
- Stolen street signs may look funny in your dorm room or basement, but they can cause confusion at the direst of times. Consider an ambulance that’s trying to get to the scene of a 911 call. Not being able to see street signs can delay their arrival—even with GPS directions. Because there’s no street sign to confirm their route, they might end up taking a wrong turn or backtracking because of misdirection.
If you think all of these reasons are hyperbolic, consider that they’re real-life scenarios that have been prosecuted before. If and when street sign thieves are found, they’re often fined heavily. And, if any collateral damage resulted from the missing sign, they’re often prosecuted for that as well. In a historical case involving a stolen stop sign and a deadly accident that followed it, three people were actually charged with and found guilty of manslaughter.
Street sign theft is no joke. If you think your dorm room, basement or garage would look better with a funny sign, buy a novelty one or have a replica made. Swiping the sign from its intended display location can have serious and dire consequences that you may shoulder the responsibility for if worse comes to worst.