Stop Signs: Function of and Correct Use of Stop Signs as Traffic Control Devices

A stop sign is one of our most valuable and effective control devices when used at the right place and under the right conditions. It is intended to help drivers and pedestrians at an intersection decide who has the right-of-way.
The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a set of well-developed, federal and state recognized guidelines that help to indicate when such controls become necessary. These guidelines take into consideration, among other things, the probability of vehicles arriving at an intersection at the same time, the length of time traffic must wait to enter, traffic delays, and the availability of safe crossing opportunities.
Public understanding of the function of stop signs is one of the most critical elements in reducing speeding and traffic accidents. The following information explains the City of Rohnert Park policy on intersection traffic controls and the correct use of stop signs:
Q: What is the purpose of a stop sign?
A: The stop sign is used to assign right of way at an intersection and to make sure that traffic flows smoothly and predictably.
Q: Will a stop sign reduce speeding in my neighborhood?
A: Because a stop sign is used to assign right of way at an intersection, it is not an effective means to control speeding. Research shows that where stop signs are installed as “deterrents” or “speed breakers,” there are high incidences of intentional violations resulting in accidents.
When vehicles must stop, the speed reduction is only near the stop sign, and drivers tend to speed up between stop sign controlled intersections. When not required to stop by cross street traffic, only 5 to 20% of all drivers come to a complete stop, 40 to 60% will come to a rolling stop below 5 mph, and 20 to 40% will pass through at higher speeds. Signs placed on major and collector streets for the purpose of speed reduction are the most flagrantly violated.
Stop signs are not warranted in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) as an effective measure to reduce speeding.
Q: Will increasing the use of stop signs in my neighborhood, better control traffic?
A: As with any traffic control device, overuse of stop signs will cause many drivers to ignore them, creating a more hazardous situation, especially in low volume areas, such as residential neighborhoods.
Because a stop sign causes a substantial inconvenience to motorists, it should be used only where needed. Studies have shown that, sometimes, after installing a stop sign there is an increase in rear-end collisions. Also, the stop sign may cause such an inconvenience that traffic detours through residential streets, parking lots, etc.
A little known fact is that the “stop and go traffic” resulting from the placement of stop signs will increase carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and volatile organic compound emissions, thereby negatively impacting the air quality in your area. There is a noticeable noise increase in the vicinity of an intersection from acceleration and braking. Additionally, deceleration, idling, and acceleration of vehicles increases fuel consumption.
Q: How can I get a stop sign on my street?
A: The City’s Engineering and Public Works Departments employs a consultant to evaluate intersections, following State and Federal guidelines, to ensure uniformity in traffic control. The survey includes reviewing the following criteria outlined in the MUTCD:

  • Vehicle and pedestrian volumes
  • Traffic speeds
  • Visibility (sight distance) at the intersection, i.e., trees, shrubbery, hills, and curves
  • Accident history

Experience has shown that improving the intersection visibility by prohibiting parking near the intersection or removing other sight distance obstructions, is often more effective in reducing traffic accidents.
Because each survey costs approximately $1,000 the City must be judicious with use of these services.
Q: What are the uses for multi-way and two-way stop signs?
A: Ordinarily, a multi-way stop sign should be used only where the volume of traffic is nearly equal on both intersecting roads. In situations where the volume is extremely heavy, a traffic light is more effective. Also, a multi-way stop sign is often used at an intersection where signals are urgently needed, but have not yet been installed. The multi-way sign can be installed quickly to control traffic while arrangements are being made for the signal installations.
Two-way stop control is used in areas where one street has a much higher traffic volume than the street it intersects. A two-way stop may be suitable under the following circumstances:

  • Where one street is a major street
  • Where sight distances approaching the intersection are substandard and traffic approaching under the general rules for uncontrolled intersections would run a strong risk of being involved in collisions
  • Where a crash pattern exists that could be corrected by right-of-way controls, yet conditions do not require traffic on both streets to stop.