Take Turns Traffic Sign

Ezra Klein points us to this Gary Lauder TED Talk on making driving more efficient:

He correctly points out that roundabouts are much more safe, efficient, and cost effective than stop signs or traffic signals.  He acknowledges that sometimes they’re not practical and illustrates in amusing fashion why stop signs cost us a lot of time and money and why yield signs aren’t an adequate replacement.

Ultimately, he suggests a new sign which is essentially a yield sign with a “Take Turns” caution.  That is, it combines the roll-through function of a traditional yield sign with the alternating turns ethic of multiple-way stop signs.   Probably not a bad idea but it would be simpler to simply change the rules for stop signs, allowing “rolling stops” when it’s obvious there’s no oncoming traffic.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    I would think having one road as “primary” and thus can do rolling stops unless the other road has someone stopped makes the most sense.

    Now the cost of changing all the signs and public education comes into play. That makes it a short term budget hit for a long term difuse payout, just what government hates to support.

  2. Franklin says:

    Probably not a bad idea but it would be simpler to simply change the rules for stop signs, allowing “rolling stops” when it’s obvious there’s no oncoming traffic.

    THIS. I’ve never understood for a minute why people emphasize coming to a complete stop even if there’s no one around. It wastes gas, for one thing. And there’s conceivably a tiny amount of extra brake and tire wear as well.

    I’ll just have to go off the deep end and assume it’s a profit-generator for cops, or possibly a massive conspiracy by the oil companies. Amirite?

  3. John Burgess says:

    I think the ‘full stop’ rule serves a dual purpose. It protects others from the ego-cursed who believe their time is far, far too valuable to actually come to a stop and as a result run into pedestrians or even cars.

    Further, is protects drivers from the wayward pedestrian (and his law firm), dressed in black, at night, who will insist on walking through an intersection heedless of the possibility of vehicles. Even on icy roads, in the fog.

    I’m willing to bet that the excess gas consumption/CO2 emissions resulting from a full stop are less than what the average feed lot produces in a day, so I’m not buying any ecological arguments for failure to stop.

    The simple matter is there are way too many assholes travelers using intersections without using their brains.

  4. TangoMan says:

    In my sci-fi futurist moments of imagination I’ve wondered how efficient a transportation network would be in a designed city where the roads were all grade separated. E-W at ground level, N-S elevated. Expensive as all get-out to build, no doubt, but imagine being able to drive 20 miles across a city without hitting a stop-light, intersection, stop sign.

    Would the value of people’s time saved, in the aggregate, balance the cost of building and maintaining such a transportation system? When you have productive people, at their various salary levels, sitting in traffic, they’re not being productive.

  5. Why do people get credit and publicity for having little more than a tenuous grip on the blleding obvious? Isn’t TED suposed to be about new insights or brilliant ideas?

    Having lived in England I can attest that roundabouts are brilliant and vastly superior to stop signs — except in one case. When a factory lets out and a lot of cares are coming from one entrance and exiting mostly from the same exit, everyone gets to sit and twiddle thir thumbs until the queue has emptied, and for most of that time no cars are moving at all. That’s the only case I encountered where the roundabout didn’t work very well. Another downside is they take more space.

    If there is one rule I would import here from England it would be not entering a box junction unless your exit is clear. Yeah, in theory we have that rule here as well, but it is generally not honored and I can never remember seeing a ticket handed out for someone entering an intersection when the light is green or yellow and not be able to get ou before the light turns red. Actually painting the box junctions on the road and handing out tickets does wonders though.

  6. Franklin says:

    I’m willing to bet that the excess gas consumption/CO2 emissions resulting from a full stop are less than what the average feed lot produces in a day, so I’m not buying any ecological arguments for failure to stop.

    Gas also costs money, ecological arguments aside.

    In our area, the only places that have stop signs left are more rural, low-traffic areas with virtually zero pedestrians. So your second argument isn’t very compelling around here.

    I’ll grant you the ego-cursed, who if you give an inch (5 mph rolling “stop”) they’ll take a mile (30 mph “stop”) and possibly get people hurt on rare occasion. The great thing about roundabouts is they have a pretty natural speed to go through them that isn’t particularly dangerous, especially since you’re generally going the same direction as the person you might bump. Charles nails their two significant drawbacks, however: high traffic times and space.

  7. John Burgess says:

    Most US cities of which I’m aware have plenty of stop signs. In some places, one at every corner for long distances. And driving in DC, the concept of ‘full stop’ seems never to have occurred to many drivers.

    At one time, DC used to enforce the blocking of intersections; perhaps it still does. I’ve not seen a car being ticketed for it in quite a few years, though. Maybe they’re using red light cameras for it?

    Roundabouts/circles/gyratories are generally good, but the can be problems in two situation beyond the factory shift change noted above: There are a surprising number of people who don’t know what to do at a circle, have no clue about who has right of way or how to merge. This is more a problem for places with a high volume of out-of-towners visiting.

    The second is that they very often suck for pedestrians. Unless there are lights at the circles (which rather countervene the purpose of circles), pedestrians looking to cross a road might have a long walk. Even then, cars coming off the circles aren’t really looking out for pedestrians. We had a pedestrian killed just like that last week.

    I’ll throw in a third potential problem, as a freebie: Not all jurisdictions handle traffic flow in the same way. My city, Sarasota, has few circles. Most behave as those in most other cities, i.e., the cars in the circle have the right of way. But there’s at least one circle at which cars in the circle actually have Yield signs where streets enter. That’s just crazy confusing. If there isn’t a rule that applies to circles, then how the hell do you know what to do other than by reading every single sign, every single time?

  8. Mr. Prosser says:

    My city has adopted roundabouts (to the great consternation of the old-timers). I was neutral about them until a massive power outage blanked all the traffic signals on two major arteries. A parallel road one mile away ran smoothly and handled a large volume of traffic because the major intersections were roundabouts. Delays and congestion began at the county line where roundabouts were replaced by 4-Way stops. I do agree they are a problem for pedestrians as well as bicycle riders, especially during high traffic times.

  9. The Thomas says:

    I fail to understand why yet another sign is required to inform people that they should follow the law as it applies to right-of-way at unmarked intersections.

    Are people really that stupid?

  10. grampagravy says:

    Every savvy pedestrian or bicyclist knows that the “rolling stop” crowd are their greatest threat. Virtually none of the “rolling stop” crowd take the time to look both ways before entering traffic. As a frequent pedestrian, I spare these folks the ignominy of running me down numerous times each day. The bunch that blow 15 or 20 feet past the stop sign before stopping to take a look to either side are the next greatest threat. But hey, what’s the welfare of some lowly pedestrian compared to that driver’s ten seconds (and brake wear) saved?

  11. Rodney Dill says:

    allowing “rolling stops” when it’s obvious there’s no oncoming traffic.

    It’s called a Yield Sign.

    We have some roundabouts and are getting more, here, north of Canada. They have a huge advantage in that they greatly reduce fatal accidents.

    They work pretty good when people:
    – Don’t stop when they should only slow at the yield sign.
    – Don’t stop while in the roundabout to allow entry of others.
    – Don’t speed up on entry to reduce/prevent gaps at the other entrances.
    – pay attention to the lane markings in the roundabout.

    I have a fairly busy two lane roundabout in my commute, and its far better than a light would be at that location.

    The “Take Turns” sign idea is Whack, people can’t decide whose turn is next correctly at a four way stop, let alone while rolling.