The sign at the intersection was easy to see. It sat atop a metal pole, was red, octagonal and had a four-letter word on it. It's what's known worldwide as a stop sign. And yet the driver was undeterred. She rolled right through the stop sign and, as an afterthought, came to a short pause five metres beyond it. The fact she came close to tagging a cyclist while also causing a driver in the oncoming lane to brake hard did not faze her.
She was just a driver, cruising obliviously through a stop sign, then coming to a semi-pause, asking the world to accept that's just the way she rolls.
The driver was an avowed practitioner of the rolling stop, a move that is common throughout the globe and one that goes by many names. Some call it the "California Roll." Others, the "Rhode Island Roll" or the "Chicago Stop." On occasion, it goes by the moniker the "Jarkata Slide." Basically, you just take the name of whatever geographical location you want to disparage and stick the word "roll" after it. There are exceptions. It should not be confused with an "Idaho Stop," which is a state law that allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign.
There are worse automotive transgressions, but the rolling stop should not be mistaken for an innocuous stunt. Rare is the driver who has not succumbed to its allure. You approach the stop sign and, believing the streets are clear, slow down and then roll through. But like other things you roll, the California Roll can become a habit. Instead of doing it on a sign-by-sign basis, rolling stops become a matter of habit.
That's when the trouble starts. You might consider it a minor violation, but that's not how law enforcement sees it. In Ontario, it's a $110 fine and three demerit points. That's a pain but the real danger comes from the act itself. You might eventually cause some damage or hurt someone because, when you roll through a stop sign, you risk hitting a cyclist or getting T-boned. In 2014, for instance, two Denver high school students in a Honda Civic were killed when they failed to stop at a stop sign and were hit by another car.
It's a problem that's as old as driving. In 1956, the Milwaukee County Safety Commission determined that rolling stops were a "prime mover of accidents" and launched a "Slow Down and Live" campaign. The rolling stop operates on the same psychological formula as texting while driving. Every driver knows it's wrong. At first, you do it sporadically, but the more you do it and get away with it, the more you think you can get away with doing it. Soon you're gliding through four-way stops and nosing three metres into major intersections. Diehard rollers probably even roll through crosswalks.
As regular readers know, I'm a man of action – a doer. It pains me to see the Vancouver Roll (if you live in Toronto) or the Toronto Roll (if you live in Vancouver) so widespread. I'm proposing a hug-a-stop-sign campaign to raise awareness. Next time you're out for a walk and you see a stop sign, take a moment. Look at it carefully. Note the word "stop" – which the Oxford Dictionary defines as "noun: a cessation of movement." That's what you're supposed to do when driving a car. Your car "ceases to move" and when you see the way is clear, you start moving again. Now hug that stop sign and make a solemn vow: "I will slow my roll."
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