Potholes come and go, but irritating signs remain

The upsetting reality is that we have very little control over what happens out there on the roads. Much relies on drivers of the other 1.3 million vehicles the DMV says are registered in Clark County.

Sure, we can slow down. We can ditch our cellphones and click our seat belts and keep both hands on the wheel.

But the rest is up to fate. Sometimes we get lucky; sometimes we don’t; and sometimes we get angry.

Liz got lucky. She emailed about a pothole on Pecos Road near Tropicana Avenue. She hoped I could help get it fixed.

But then voila, it got fixed before I could do anything about it. Clark County’s public works department does this sort of thing routinely.

So that’s who deserves your thanks, Liz. Not me.

But luck is not with Bob, who wrote in with a question that comes up again and again. Local cities and the county are installing those time-saving flashing yellow left turn lights all over the place. They’ve put in about 200, and have about 200 to go.

Local results and federal studies show the lights are safer than the green circles. So far, 43 states have begun to install them.

Bob wondered if they were going to be installed at Tropicana Avenue and Hualapai Way, and at Flamingo Road and Hualapai.

They are not on the schedule, said Dan Kulin, a spokesman for Clark County.

Another Bob wrote in with one that used to come up all the time. Let’s take it up again. I’ve been looking for a reason to rant.

“I thought they were supposed to be getting rid of the confusing ‘When Children Present’ signs in a school zone,” Bob wrote. “It’s been a while since I have been on this route, but I just drove Warm Springs and saw they replaced the ‘When Flashing’ with ‘When Children Present.’ ”

Turns out, they’re not getting rid of those confusing signs. Henderson installed them throughout the city about two years ago. They’ve popped up elsewhere, too.

But what does “When Children are Present” mean?

We’ve written about this topic ad nauseam over the past couple of years. The answers from the authorities are never good enough.

School zones should be enforced from a half-hour before school starts to a half-hour after school ends, state law says.

It’s only when kids are actually there at the school on weekdays, on the sidewalks or crossing the street.

Or it’s all the time, whenever there’s a kid around.

I’m calling shenanigans.

These signs are too vague to have any meaning.

Are you really supposed to keep track of the start and stop times of every school you might possibly encounter on your travels?

Are you supposed to slow down when kids are playing on the school playground, behind chain-link fences?

Are you supposed to slow down on a Saturday when some random kid rides by on his bicycle?

I’m all for slowing down. Not just in school zones, but in general. We drive too fast. We’re in too much of a hurry. We don’t pay enough attention.

But these ridiculous signs aren’t the solution. They erode our trust in the government.

Forgive me for getting all high and mighty here, but confusing us and scaring us into slowing down just because we might get a ticket isn’t what laws are supposed to do.

They’re supposed to be clear, to us and to the enforcers.

Ian Bartrum is a constitutional law professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law. I asked him about something called the vagueness doctrine.

This rule, based on the due process clauses in the Fifth and 14th Amendments, says that laws must be easy to understand or they are unconstitutional.

“If you can’t figure it out, then it’s not fair to hold you responsible,” he said.

There’s another problem that the doctrine tries to take care of, too. A vague law gives too much power to the enforcers. They’re basically able to interpret it any way they want to.

This came up in a famous vagueness doctrine case in Montana in 1998. That state had ditched speed limits on some roads, advising only that drivers should be reasonable and prudent.

Then Rudy Stanko got caught doing 102 mph. He got a ticket. He fought it.

The state Supreme Court threw out the “reasonable and prudent” law because it was so vague it was unconstitutional.

Could it happen here?

Bartrum said courts are reluctant to flat-out overturn laws. But it’s possible.

“You’re right to think that maybe these kind of speed limits are vague,” he said. “There’s a chance the court would be sympathetic to that.”

Better yet, let’s just get rid of these confusing signs so we can all know what the heck we’re supposed to be doing out there.

It’s hard enough when the rules are clear. Let’s not make it harder by confusing everyone into submission.

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