Stop signs don't work unless you stop at them

The Madison County Record Nov. 19, 2011, 9:24am

If you've ever tried to teach a teenager how to drive, you no doubt stressed the importance of obeying traffic signals and coming to a complete stop at stop signs.

You also stressed the importance of driving defensively and looking both ways before crossing an intersection. Just because you have a green light and the right of way doesn't mean some reckless or inattentive driver won't run the red, you surely said.

Knowing that you were in the right is small solace when you're lying in traction in a hospital bed.

No matter where you live, there are likely to be intersections with only two stop signs that could probably use four, and intersections with four stop signs that might warrant signal lights instead. Even at intersections that are models of traffic engineering, you still have to exercise caution.

This is something that Matthew Adelsbach failed to do.

Eight years ago, Adelsbach ran a stop sign at the intersection of East 20th and Alby Streets in Alton and was struck by a crossing car that had the right of way. He suffered near-fatal injuries and was in a coma for 31 days.

Adelsbach subsequently filed a $15 million suit against the City of Alton, alleging negligence on the city's part for having a two-way stop at the intersection instead of a four-way one.

"Alton has a system failure," Adelsbach's attorney argued during the week-long trial that concluded last week. "They don't have stop signs governed by engineer's principles."

Defense attorney Charles Pierce argued that Adelsbach failed to exercise proper caution and described the suit as "a very simple case about a man who ran a stop sign."

Madison County jurors agreed and found in favor of the city.

"You're obviously responsible for your own actions," jury foreman Jay Wackerly commented after the trial.

If more jurors and litigants would recognize the obvious and hold the right parties responsible, our courts would be less clogged with meritless cases.

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