“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that.
Can’t you read the sign?”
–Five Man Electrical Band
Why all the signs telling us what to do? Well, I suppose that somebody has to, or we would be living in chaos, but who are those somebodies deciding what the limits are?
Road signs, which go all the way back to the Roman empire, were originally made of wood or stone. The Romans also used roadside columns to indicate how many miles to Rome.1
Over the course of time and with the invention of the automobile, more signs were necessary, which eventually led to speed limits which caused the Italian Touring Club in 1895 to lobby for the improvement of road signs.2
Later, in 1899, according to the United States Department of Transportation, a group of people who owned automobiles met in New York City, New York, to discuss road signs to provide drivers with more information about direction and their destination. This meeting would be the first of many to make traveling by car safer.3
Colors were then designated to signs so that people would easily be able to discern what the signs indicated, such as red for “stop” and green for “proceed with caution.”
As more people drove, the need for driver’s education courses became pressing. The first in the U.S. who developed a course in driver’s education as well as how to maintain a vehicle was at State College Area School District at Penn State in 1935.4
That did not stop folks from driving while intoxicated, so this problem led to the implementation of laws against drinking and driving. New York was the first state to enforce these laws, and in 1910, California would soon follow along with the other states after that.5
In 1936 a professor of toxicology and biochemistry at the University of Indiana, patented a device he called the “Drunkometer,” and this was followed in 1938 when the American Medical Association and the National Safety Council agreed that the blood alcohol limit of any driver should not exceed 0.15 percent.
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) was born from a tragedy in 1980, and the group began its fight for tougher legislation against drivers who exceeded the alcohol limit, especially for those with prior offenses.6
By the year 2008, the blood alcohol limit considered in order to safely drive a vehicle was reduced to 0.08%.7
We complain about limits and oftentimes want to exceed them. This is common human behavior, but there can be severe penalties and hefty prices we pay, including death, for that excessive behavior.
“Another sign … reminded drivers to slow down, reading ‘35 mph — it’s a speed limit, not a suggestion.’”8
Limits and signs may oftentimes feel like a nuisance, but they are loving reminders meant to keep us safe.
Parents must set limits for their children to keep them from harm.
Amusement parks set limits so we won’t lose our arms.
Elevators have limits so we can go up and down.
Some counties have zoning restrictions to preserve towns.
Highways and roads have limits so we arrive in one piece.
Landlords have restrictions, enforced by a lease.
There are signs that intend to direct and signs to correct.
There are limitations for the length of a speech and limits as to how much we need to eat.
There are maximums and there are minimums and even water restrictions for your chrysanthemums.
There are limits as to how one may protest and restrictions for one who is under house arrest.
There are limits to anger so keep your composure, and double yellow lines also mean don’t crossover.
There are limits on what you can say to someone and restrictions regarding too much fun.
Weight limits and lifting weights.
Plating food and carrying plates.
Spinning, climbing, watching TV.
How many ornaments you put on the tree
Limitations may provoke aggravation and restraints may bring on complaints, but without rules we would have no order, no lines of demarcation, and no borders.
Limitations we very much need to heed,
but there is one exception,
to love one another with genuine affection.
1 @Allstate. “A History of Street Signs.” The Allstate Blog. 2016. Accessed September 20, 2016. https://blog.allstate.com/from-rome-to-detroit-a-history-of-street-signs/.
4 “State College Area School District.” History/Driver’s Education Course. Accessed September 20, 2016. http://www.scasd.org/Page/826.
5 @LifeSafer. “The History of Drunk Driving Laws in the U.S. • LifeSafer.” LifeSafer Ignition Interlock. 2015. Accessed September 20, 2016. https://www.lifesafer.com/blog/the-history-of-drunk-driving-laws-in-the-u-s/.
8 “Apps and Street Signs to Get People to Stop Texting and ...” Accessed September 20, 2016. http://www.techinsider.io/apps-and-street-signs-to-get-people-to-stop-texting-and-walking-2016-2.