Every town or state has its own local traffic quirks of course, but there’s one particular example in the state that I currently call home, Pennsylvania, that I feel doesn’t get enough attention. Possibly because Pennsylvanians think it’s normal, and also because the rest of the country doesn’t know it exists. The “Stop Except Right Turn Sign.”
Here’s the deal: In a “Y” or “T” type intersection, the “Except Right Turn” sign is placed underneath an existing stop sign as a sort of modifier, which already invites ambiguity to what is supposed to be the most unequivocal traffic control device on American roads. I’ll use a real-world intersection as an example:
This is a “T” type junction and, as you can see, two of the three meeting roads have stop signs. If we’re looking down from overhead, drivers approaching from the left arm and perpendicular leg of the “T” are both to stop. However, in the case of the leg, they must only stop if they are turning left. If they are turning right, they’re encouraged — arguably legally obligated — to continue without stopping. The remaining road to the right has no stop sign.
The rationale for the sign’s existence is outlined in state regulations, and reads as follows:
The Except Right Turn Plaque (R1-10P) will be authorized for use with a Stop Sign to allow right-turn movements without stopping at an intersection where the major flow of traffic makes a right-hand turn rather than proceeding straight through. Its use should be limited to those locations where a significant energy saving can be realized by minimizing the number of vehicles required to stop or substantially reduce their speed. Care should be taken to insure that no traffic conflicts exist.
The municipality has decided most cars on our example intersection approaching from the leg of the “T” turn right; therefore, it would unnecessarily slow traffic if they had to stop. I can say from anecdotal experience that this intersection in a rural town really isn’t all that frequently trafficked — or at least not enough for an additional stop to make a difference — so it should probably just be a three-way stop. Of course, every case is different.
My beef with the “Except Right Turn” sign, which is not an uncommon argument here in the Commonwealth, is that it’s particularly risky for drivers in the other spoke of the “T” that have a normal stop. Most people when rolling up to a stop sign tend to look to see if other sides of the intersection also must stop. This is one of the reasons stop signs are octagonal, because the shape itself provides a distinctive silhouette to drivers in other lanes of traffic.
If you’re on the road with a normal stop, you’ll recognize the stop sign perpendicular to you, but you won’t know that there’s another sign underneath it that orders drivers there to continue moving right.
Imagine you’re in this situation. You approach your stop sign a little earlier than the driver on the “Except Right Turn” end approaches theirs. Naturally, you think they’re stopping anyway and you got there first, so you have right of way to set off straight. A second later they almost T-bone you because they were never intending to stop in the first place. Technically they had the right of way all along, but there was no way you could’ve known that unless you’d been through the intersection before.
I’ll add that in my real-world example, the house on the corner between the two stopping sides of the intersection has a lot of detritus (I’m biased and drive a low, tiny hatchback, OK?) at the absolute edge of their property line and the road. That can make it hard to see anyone entering the intersection from the side with right-turn immunity. That also sucks.
Pennsylvania is a weird state to drive in for so many reasons, I say as a transplant from Jersey. PA also, for example, allows lefts on red, so long as you’re in the left lane turning from a one-way road onto another one-way road. The “Except Right Turn” sign may also be present in Oregon and Connecticut according to the blog Borden’s Blather, but I cannot speak to that. If you can, please shed some light. Discuss!