Who creates traffic laws?
April 8, 2009 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Who creates traffic laws?

The foundation of this question stems from a right-on-red ticket my wife received a couple of months ago. She admitted fault (there was a sign), but it was a new sign that had just been erected and, my wife, on auto-pilot, made a right-on-red where she had made a right-on-red for years. When she mentioned this to the cop, he responded with some variation of the, "Hey lady, I don't create the laws, I just enforce them." answer.

This got me thinking, though.

Who decides, as in this example, to make right-on-red prohibited after years of it not being so?

How often does this group/committee meet?

What data are used?

Who comprises this group and are any the members of the public?
posted by teg4rvn to Law & Government (13 answers total)
Well, it's generally some combination of city and state legislators - not that the two groups get together, but some laws are going to be statewide, and some are going to be local. So it's your city counsel, or whatever its local equivalent is, and/or your state legislature. Both of which are elected.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:23 AM on April 8, 2009

Those sorts of things - street signs - are likely to be the lowest-level government with jurisdiction. That is, either municipality or county governments. Go to the next City Council or County Commissioner's meeting (whoever has control) and let them know that notifying the public of changes in traffic should be done better next time.
posted by Picklegnome at 10:29 AM on April 8, 2009

a) In your instance, no laws have changed, only signage.
b) If you're in the US, your local municipality probably has a Traffic Commission that advises the council on traffic matters.
posted by zamboni at 10:30 AM on April 8, 2009

Do you mean who creates the laws, or who decides to put a given sign in a given place?

If the latter, then I am kind of interested in this too, due to a no-left-turn sign in our town being right behind a bridge pillar where you can't see it, and wouldn't see it until you've gotten ticketed.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 10:30 AM on April 8, 2009

Cities log all of the data from traffic accidents. From time to time this info is evaluated, usually as a part of a bigger roadway project. If there's a high occurence of a certain type of accident at an intersection, the restrictions are put onto it. But, it's usually an engineer's recommendation that gets passed on to the public works department, which has the authority to change the rules.
posted by hwyengr at 10:31 AM on April 8, 2009

Response by poster: I guess I was imprecise in my question. I know legislatures create laws. Indeed, I am more interested in who decide street signage and who decides to single out a specific street corner for a specific traffic rule (e.g., no right on red)
posted by teg4rvn at 10:36 AM on April 8, 2009

Street signage is usually set by your local Public Works department. There are guidelines such as the that everyone follows, but implementation is usually up to the department.

So, in your example, someone may have complained about an accident at that intersection. Public works would investigate the intersection and if they found it to be unsafe, they would change the signage.
posted by electroboy at 10:56 AM on April 8, 2009

Call up your city government and ask them. Each municipality is structured different and so goes through a slightly different process. You can inquire about the specific process that went into that intersection if you are willing to be given the run around long enough. There is no broad, universal process that anyone can answer to here. The answer you want is specific to your municipality.

Even if you do find out how the process works I imagine you will be wanting to know how the process worked at that specific intersection. That will be another bit of a run around.

god speed.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:00 AM on April 8, 2009

Legislatures pass laws, executive agencies promulgate regulations to enforce those laws. The law that governs what the agency can do is called the organic statute.

For example, the organic statute that created the Department of Agriculture is here. As you can see, it's very vague and sets the outer limits of what that agency is supposed to do:

"There shall be at the seat of government a Department of Agriculture, the general design and duties of which shall be to acquire and to diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture, rural development, aquaculture, and human nutrition in the most general and comprehensive sense of those terms and to procure, propagate, and distribute among the people new and valuable seeds and plants."

Then it's up to the agency to promulgate rules and regulations as to how to go about its business--you'd find those in the Code of Federal Regulations. They're all in Title 7.

For your local traffic signage, there's likely a similar structure whereby some body is authorized to make these decisions on behalf of the lawmaking body--probably a commission or board or department.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 11:06 AM on April 8, 2009

It really depends on where you live (which state and locality, if you're in the US) on who decides this. In Virginia, outside of cities and incorporated towns, the Virginia Department of Transportation does studies on whether or not signage is needed, and then presents its findings to, for speed limit signs at least, the commonwealth transportation commissioner for approval. (VDOT sign FAQ.)

My general sense is that there are two main ways a new sign like no right turn on red comes about: 1) Either somewhat requested one to the proper body, they did their study, possibly included it in some sort of public hearing, and then installed the sign; 2) a lot of transportation departments will occasionally review traffic patterns and needs on sections of roadways and then might decide to install/change signage.

(An example: One road near my house recently had two 2-way stop signs changed to 4-way stops after VDOT had done traffic studies on the roaday.)
posted by skynxnex at 11:22 AM on April 8, 2009

As for why that particular intersection has been changed after some time, look into new construction in the area. New homes, commercial or industrial construction, schools, churches, even things like a bike path bring more foot or vehicular traffic into the area and local construction regulations will usually require a review of the traffic at key nearby intersections. Per my civil engineer husband, the municipality's engineers are responsible for assessing the impact of a construction project on local traffic patterns, and if there is a negative impact, coming up with a solution acceptable to all involved parties. The solution may be something relatively simple, like changing out a sign, or may be something more involved, like redesigning the project or rebuilding roads or intersections.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:32 PM on April 8, 2009

One corner near my parents' house (in Canada) was recently switched to "No right on red" because my mother was hit legally crossing in the crosswalk. It's a weird intersections with more than two streets into it and partially on a hill.

She talked to someone (police? our neighbour in government?) who mentioned that that corner had been a problem for years and that her accident allowed them to take the matter up with the city and get the signage changed.

Another nearby intersections was also changed, probably because pedestrians were being almost run over too (having almost been run-over myself several times), but I don't know if there was a specific accident that lead to the change.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:52 PM on April 8, 2009

On your municipal level of government there's a dept that handles traffic, most likely called the dept of transportation or public works or somesuch. They employ traffic engineers who are always tweaking the system trying to find the best way to keep traffic going and keeping traffic safe. They determine how long yellows are, what lights you cannot make turns on, speed, etc. You can read all about traffic engineering here.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:56 PM on April 8, 2009

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