S Sorrensen’s Here & Now: Sign Language

Image S Sorrensen

Midginbil. Tuesday, 9.45pm

I hate that sign. It’s what’s wrong with contemporary society. And it’s the second one I’ve come across tonight as I cruise the backroad through the caldera towards my tribal lands on the crater’s southern rim.

I feel like ramming it. But that might damage my Superoo, and the sign is probably high-speed cyber-connected (not NBN obviously) to a government agency – Signs and Public Order Authority – and my ramming the sign would be filmed and sent instantly with a red flag and siren alert to the police, to Homeland Security and to Facebook, and I’d find myself in a jail run by Bunnings on some remote Pacific island, waiting 10 years for my case to be decided by a man who looks like suit fluff. Probably. So, I don’t ram the sign.

The sign says, ‘Slow Down.’ I don’t.

I’m not against road signs. Some are helpful –‘Road Closed’, ‘Speed Camera Ahead’. Some are hopeful – ‘Koalas Cross Here’. Some are confusing, such as big, red ‘Wrong Way’ signs that can be seen when you’re going the right way, or those ‘Slow Children Crossing’ signs near schools.

Others signs are just scary. Apparently there are people out there, legal drivers, in charge of, say, a Nissan Patrol with personalised number plates and a happy stick family stuck to their rear window, who need to be told to ‘Drive To Suit Conditions’ and ‘Do Not Overtake Unless Safe’. Oh dear. Or maybe they drive an old Subaru with a ‘Remember To Breathe’ bumper sticker.

The electronic ‘Slow Down’ sign flashes on as I approach the bridge. It’s smart like that. Out of the dark night, this LED-festooned message flares like a meteor hitting atmosphere, then forcibly blinks its blazing command, as I approach it. It certainly attracts my attention. But I don’t slow down.

I don’t slow down, because I’m not speeding. (Really.) This is why I hate that sign. Not because I’m advocating speeding, no, but because the sign comes on even if I’m driving slowly. This is true. I have tried it out. Even if you drive 10kph under the speed limit, with hazard lights on, seatbelt fastened, new airbags fitted, no THC in your blood, no stubby of Coopers in the cup holder, and mobile phone out of reach, the sign still flashes on, telling you to slow down. It’s stupid like that.

All that attention-seeking, all that garish behaviour, it’s all just white noise – LOUD  (silent) white noise, for sure, but white noise nonetheless – because, though it’s demanding attention and giving orders, it is disconnected to the reality around it. Like Australian politics.

If the sign came on when a driver was exceeding the speed limit, that would be effective driver conditioning, but to just shout stuff, irrespective of the circumstances, makes it just more stuff in an already overstuffed world.

I pass the sign. It turns off. Night closes again around the bridge. Nothing remains of the sign except a floating blue amoeba on my retina. My headlights push into the night. The sign has gone back in hiding, lying in wait, like a flasher, to inflict its meaningless self on the next driver-by.

I hate that sign. It’s just giving orders without thinking it through. Why must someone already driving slowly, slow down? The sign is all flash and command, but with no contact with the reality of the situation. Yeah, just like politics. It is, in fact, a danger,  a perilous distraction; the driver’s attention should be focussed on the road ahead. (Which may be a rough one…)

To be properly helpful, the Signs and Public Order Authority should put up a flashing sign that commands drivers to: ‘Keep Your Eyes On The Road’.

2 responses to “S Sorrensen’s Here & Now: Sign Language”

  1. serena ballerina says:

    Yes some brightly lit road signs are a distraction. Especially flashing ones.

    Scrolling ones on the highway are worse as you try to read the message unfolding while NOT looking at the road.

    Some of those reflective arrow signs on a bend are so big & bright thay are almost blinding. Low beam signs are what’s needed.

    Ho hum. How to strike the happy medium?

  2. Maureen McDermott says:

    In the same vein….labels on food products such as ‘10% less sugar’. Less than what?

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