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Signs are More than Money

Some people may think that signposts -- such as street names, stop, and yield -- are not very important. The worst that can happen, they believe, is that some people will suffer a little inconvenience. In actuality, though, how does a missing or defaced sign affect us?

11:37 p.m., March 3: A van from South Georgia cruises slowly down a main road. The family of five inside have been traveling for hours. Since they have never been in Habersham County before, they tiredly scrutinize every street name looking for the road their relatives live on. They have good directions. There's only one problem -- one of the street name signs is mutilated, its writing obliterated with paint. Was that possibly the road they needed to take?

Annoyance, frustration, fear

All of us have probably experienced these emotions when we are in a strange place and we can't find our way. If we are lost late at night or early in the morning, these feelings can be especially intense.

Is it such a big deal to make someone nervous or upset? Well, consider: A minor irritation can be compared to the light jab of a sewing pin. The pain is not too bad and, if it wasn't intentional, the incident is easily forgotten. In contrast, anyone who purposely irritates others is like someone who goes around with a pin deliberately yet gently stabbing people. Wouldn't you agree that such an individual would be a nuisance and a menace and would need to be restrained?

But, is aggravation the only effect of stealing or vandalizing a sign?

7:17 p.m., July 19: A husband and wife anxiously examine their budget. In order to pay their bills, they have to watch their finances carefully. They make a list of the expenditures they know they will have in the coming months: School clothes and supplies for their two children, doctors' visits, new tires for the car, county and city taxes...

Monetary costs

Including labor, the amount to make a sign is approximately $50. With an average of 30 per month lost to theft or vandalism (90 in April 2003!), the monthly sum is typically around $1,500. That's approximately $18,000 per year! And that figure doesn't include the price of the originals.

Who defrays these costs? Unfortunately, everyone does. The taxes that are collected pay not only for the signs themselves but also for the law enforcement to catch the offenders, the jails or youth facilities to incarcerate them (if needed), and the courts to process them. (If convicted of civil and/or criminal charges, it is possible that the guilty party may be ordered by the court to reimburse at least some of these expenses.)

In effect, the culprits have opened the public "wallet" and extracted money when no one was looking. Can anything be worse? Unfortunately, yes.

3:13 a.m., October 1: A fire truck, rushing to a house fire in a rural part of the county, misses the road it should take because the street sign is gone. The driver continues for another couple of miles before he realizes that he is lost. He calls for directions and eventually gets to his destination. It is too late. The blaze is now out of control. The house burns to the ground, and its lone occupant dies. The man could have been saved if the fire truck had arrived a couple of minutes earlier.

Damage to or loss of property or life

More than likely the people who vandalize or steal signs do so as a prank. They don't intend for anyone to get hurt. But if an accident does happen, what then? The civil and criminal responsibility can be much greater. Depending on the circumstances, the person who contributed to the wreck could even be charged with manslaughter. The serious -- and even deadly -- repercussions that can occur, therefore, make this a "practical joke" that is best avoided.

Can we be part of the solution to the problem of stolen or defaced signs? Definitely! How?

  • By resolving to leave street and traffic signs alone and by encouraging friends and relatives to do so also
  • By reporting immediately any missing or destroyed sign to the proper authorities so that replacements can be quickly installed

Yes, it is clear that missing or defaced street or traffic signs can have grave consequences. They really do cost us more than money!

4:35 p.m., January 15: As a car comes to a stop at an intersection, the driver's eyes are drawn to a memorial close by. He wonders who it is for. He doesn't know that it is dedicated to the memory of three members of a family who died in an crash -- a crash that occurred because someone, for amusement, removed a stop sign.


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