With Road Safety Like This, Who Needs Drunk Drivers?


A few weeks ago, I was driving with my family in upstate New York on one of those open two-lane highways where it’s pretty easy to do 60 m.p.h. even though you probably shouldn’t. (The posted speed limit is 55.) The road is dotted with farmhouses from which the occasional dog can dart out, or even a kid on a bike. It’s also hilly and a bit curvy — all in all, a road you want to drive safely on.

So when I had so slam on my brakes at the sight of some orange cones in the middle of this road, I immediately worried there’d been a bad accident. There were at least a dozen cars backed up in either direction. But there hadn’t been an accident.

Out in front of the fire house, the town’s volunteer rescue squad had used the cones to stop traffic and several people were soliciting donations for the rescue squad’s budget.

I was pretty surprised. If you were at a meeting of the rescue squad and someone was soliciting ideas to raise money, I’d have to think that stopping high-speed traffic in the middle of the road in order to shake a can would be pretty near the bottom of the list; kind of like a doctor offering cigarettes in the waiting room.

On the other hand, if someone did have an accident as they were screeching to a halt, the rescue squad would be right on hand — and could therefore make a strong argument for the service it provides.

And you thought painting ads on the highway was dangerous.

Loren Pechtel

I agree with DJH. The factory I program for used to be located in a very small town that worked this way. It actually caused a problem for us--if a fire call came in we lost a good chunk of our workforce as they all worked for us. Callouts were every week or two.


One time I got stuck on a desert highway in the middle of nowhere, Arizona. A huge traffic jam on a two lane road, nowhere near anywhere. Turned out the 2 horse town ahead decided to block the road in hopes of convincing people to stop at their casino.


In England we have really iritating warning signs that proclaim "FOG" when its foggy or "CONGESTION" when the roads are busy.

Apart from stating the frickin obvious they are left on way after the hazard has since cleared up which makes people slow down in anticipation of something round the next bend. However, for me at least, they are having a 'boy who cried wolf' affect and I'm starting to ignore the signs. Of course this could always end in disaster which is why I keep my distance whatever the hazards or lack of them on the road.



Do you have any idea how much money it takes to pay for all the equipment a fire department uses? Trust me; your fire suppression taxes are already very high. When a local government has to add to that the cost of paying firefighters, it probably can't afford it; and many taxpayers would balk at the extra cost. The only logical step then is to have fire departments run by the county, or the state, and do you really the people who run the DMV to run the fire department?

Besides that, I enjoy being a firefighter. It brings me a great deal of personal satisfaction, not to mention a sense of family and belonging. But I *also* enjoy my "day job" as a college professor, and I wouldn't want to have to choose.

steve pesce

Read "Unsafe at any Speed" by Ralph Nader, the book that brought GM and the big automakers to their knees.


I think a good idea for a police fundraiser would be to do something like the dunk booth only with Tasers. Let's say you have an auction with all of the police force eligible to be bid on. Start at like $50, highest bidder gets to pull the trigger. There are some traffic officers for whom I would bid a fortune for the privilege of Tasering.


The day I moved into my dorm before my 1st semester as an undergrad the traffic was backed up several miles away from the University. This was in Wilmington, NC a heavy tourist town on a Saturday during the late summer, so traffic would have been bad enough with the tourists and move in day traffic. But sure enough the main cause of congestion was a group of firefighters stopping traffic on a busy highway to solicit donations.


Why is firefighting *ever* a volunteer activity? Personally, I believe the concept should be outlawed, and taxes raised to properly fund whatever appropriate firefighting resources are necessary.

What's next, running volunteer jails? police departments? schools?



As good of a theory of having a distinction of roadtypes, the United States isn't really capable of changing over easily (I'm assuming you're not from the US by the use of the word "autobahn"). Much like perhaps Europe should widen roads in cities that existed before cars were popular, but its not quite viable.

And "twice the speed of bikes", we're not talking Lance Armstrong speed children ride at. Most children ride at or less than 10 miles an hour. Reducing a speed limit from 55 to 20 would not be plausible the way communities have already developed. Say a 40 mile stretch of such highway, that someone has chosen to purchase a home because of it being a 40 minute drive from work. Making that same distance a 2 hour drive would hurt the community, hurt the worker, and hurt the firm. Perhaps sprawl shouldn't have happened, but it did, and its best to look at what's plausible of what happened now, not if we could go back in time and rebuild the system in place.

(And to the origional point, there's a difference between having to make an emergency stop and putting in a roadblock. An emergency stop slows traffic for a few minutes, closing a lane causes problems that weren't optimized for when the road was fashioned.)



Almost as bad as the police that sit by the side of the road to monitor for speeders - and STEP RIGHT INTO MOVING traffic to pull the offender over. Serve and protect? I think not.


I went to uni with a guy who, when they approached the school to gain permission to fund raise for their year 12 formal, were told they could not solicit funds off school property. So, owing to the fact that they school was on a fairly busy road, and had a "drive through" carpark attached (that was technically part of the school), stole the road closed/detour signs from some local works, diverted the road through the car park and then charged a toll to exit the carpark.

It was brilliant.

They made a fortune as people were happy to pay a dollar or two for a speedy exit.

Then the cops turned up.....


I see these types of fund raisers all the time in Texas, although, usually they are at an intersection.

I always think: how do you even know those people are really firefighters and are really raising money for what they say its for?

They always seem to look official with their firefighter boots and high visibility safety vests, but that stuff is easy to come by.


Maybe your safety is just an external cost the local folks don't have to worry about. So long as they can fund their fire department/EMT's, they are net benefited.

So, were these cones in a spot on the road that if you'd been paying attention, you still would have had to slam on your brakes? (Because if you have to slam them on for something that is just sitting out in the road to begin with, you were going too fast for conditions).

If they were really on top of things, they'd have set up a speed trap just before the charity stop, and nailed you for speeding too.


In some parts of rural CT, firefighters bracket intersections with a "fill the boot" donation request. They generally stay out of the way, but I'm sorry, when I'm driving through an intersection, the last thing I need is to have to whip out my wallet or dig through my pockets for money or change ... one particular intersection where they did this is a big 5-way job which is a pain to navigate even when there aren't people wandering around begging!

Somehow I don't see that any charitable cause is so great that collecting for it can possibly justify screwing with traffic. That said, however, I'm sure there are plenty of people who would disagree ... which just goes to show how easy it is to cloud people's judgement where charity is concerned.


Daniel Reeves wrote in #6:

"Actually, the best safety idea I’ve heard is to remove all painted lines and traffic lights and stuff (use things like roundabouts instead). This forces everyone to simply drive drastically slower (it’s been tried in Holland I think, and seems to work). "

I actually now understand this concept after having been to northern Italy on a business trip this summer. I didn't get it until I saw a 4-way, traffic-light controlled intersection where the local government was adding the roundabout and REMOVING the traffic light. Then I got it. Since stopping (in manufacturing terminology) the car to wait for a light is waste (time, gas, more emissions), adding the roundabout makes it so the cars would now only have to yield the majority of the time in that intersection versus having to stop. Then the removal of the traffic light takes out the infastructure requirements for electricity, light bulb replacements, light poles (for cars to crash into and damage), a timing mechanism (and its electricity, etc. Plus the installation of the roundabout reduces the potential for catastrophic t-bone accidents and replaces it with the somewhat safer glancing blow type accident potential (reducing potential for critical human injuries).

As for the fire/rescue solicitations I liked the old-school coin toss or penny pitch canvas sheets that some groups used to set up when I was a kid. Not as much slowing down or requirement for some volunteer to carry a bucket between the cars...



A local teen soccer club was raising funds to fly from WV to merry olde England for a trip. They had a four-way intersection as their stage, and parked off to one side was the Mercedes SUV the players arrived in.

I did not give. I doubt I will ever give to a cause begging in this manner, but that miscalculation annoyed me greatly.


Procedure for Dealing With Third-World Style Roadblock Extortion:

1: Stop carefully, so as not to injure anyone.

2: Ascertain whether those soliciting funds are police officers.

3a: If yes, politely ask to be allowed through, and note badge numbers and names for subsequent complaints to both police department and local media outlets.

3b: If no, step out of car, remove cones and throw into ditch, enjoy happy applause of fellow motorists. Note names for subsequent complaints to both police department and local media outlets.


The fire department locally has also been disrupting traffic for the same thing frequently in busy areas (I've observed it four times now). Its an abuse of their office plain and simple.

Daniel Reeves

It's a terrible way to do fundraising but how can you say it's a safety issue? If having to stop for cones in the road is dangerous then it's surely only a matter of time before one of those kids on bikes gets killed. The more cones the safer, I say.

Actually, the best safety idea I've heard is to remove all painted lines and traffic lights and stuff (use things like roundabouts instead). This forces everyone to simply drive drastically slower (it's been tried in Holland I think, and seems to work).

There should be a sharp distinction between interstates (aka autobahns) and all other roads. Either it's a fenced off highway or you should be going at most twice the speed of bikes. Certainly if stopping for cones on a non-interstate is a safety issue then something is very wrong.


Re: SusanO (#18),

Firefighting is volunteer in some very rural communities where calls are so rare that paid, full-time firefighters would be sitting around doing absolutely nothing, making it prohibitively expensive compared with the benefit of having them. In my town, for example, on average we have no more than one call a month, and it's rare for any of them to actually be a full-fledged fire ... the calls are usually for minor problems.

Some larger towns supplement paid, full-time fire departments with additional volunteer units, to cover outlying areas and/or to provide backup coverage.

Having said that, the town does pay for the trucks, equipment, communications (including 911 service), etc. plus it maintains firehouses (three in my town) -- and even provides insurance and coverage of expenses such as training. The only thing the town does not pay, is wages to the volunteer firefighters.

As compensation, volunteer firefighters in my town (and many others) get property-tax reductions ... not a lot of money usually, but something nonetheless. They also get other town services -- that others pay for -- either for free or at reduced cost.