0781: "Ahead Stop"

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Kyrn » Wed Aug 18, 2010 6:34 am UTC

Or maybe it's to get people to slow down so that they can make sense of the signs. :p
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby ijuin » Wed Aug 18, 2010 6:38 am UTC

To be serious for a moment, highway engineers put the first words of a message in the place where the driver will approach them first, because if the first words were the farthest away (the "top" from the perspective of somebody looking at the road), the driver may have driven over the last words of the message by the time he reads to the bottom. Thus, the words are laid down in the order that the driver will reach them.

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Vrishna » Wed Aug 18, 2010 6:40 am UTC

gce15p wrote:news flash randall, star wars came out in 77


Of course, Randall is fully aware of that fact. My guess is that he just wanted to use the literary technique of an unreliable narrator in the alt text. Well done.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby paulisa » Wed Aug 18, 2010 6:47 am UTC

ijuin wrote:To be serious for a moment, highway engineers put the first words of a message in the place where the driver will approach them first, because if the first words were the farthest away (the "top" from the perspective of somebody looking at the road), the driver may have driven over the last words of the message by the time he reads to the bottom. Thus, the words are laid down in the order that the driver will reach them.


Of course, but guessing from this thread I'm not the only one who finds this confusing and distracting. It might be more useful to avoid multiple-line-messages on the actual road and put them on overhead signs. I'm not amarican so I can't say how prevalent these tarmac-messages are, but I've not encountered one yet where there isn't an overhead sing saying the same thing somewhere in it's proximity.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby cptjeff » Wed Aug 18, 2010 7:56 am UTC

ijuin wrote:To be serious for a moment, highway engineers put the first words of a message in the place where the driver will approach them first, because if the first words were the farthest away (the "top" from the perspective of somebody looking at the road), the driver may have driven over the last words of the message by the time he reads to the bottom. Thus, the words are laid down in the order that the driver will reach them.



Obviously that's the idea, but it neglects a basic issue- the convention that we're accustomed to using in every other aspect of life is to start reading at the top. While the 'start reading from the bottom' idea makes sense from an engineer's standpoint, it fails becuase markings on the highway are the only time you EVER see something written like that, so we have to relearn how to read it each time, which takes extra effort on the part of our minds, which means we take more time to figure out what it's saying, and that can result in blowing past stop signs or missing an exit.

The other thing is that at least for shorter messages, it takes so little time to read that you're not in danger of driving over any words before finishing, unless they space the words really far apart. Stop.......................... Ahead. But how long do they think it takes us to read three syllables? Perhaps it's just that I've always been a fast reader, but is

Stop
Ahead

Really that much of a pain to read?

But really, I suspect it's yet another of those "makes sense to engineers but completely ignores human context" deals.

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby WestfW » Wed Aug 18, 2010 7:57 am UTC

It's just little-endian text.

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby gerv » Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:00 am UTC

"Have you considered that highway engineers might just know a few things about how people read road signs that you don't?"

Well, turns out the highway engineers in quite a few other countries (including the UK) don't know it either, because they write on the roads in the other order - the one most people seem to expect. Although we have much less road-writing than you do; the most common one is SLOW (all one line, of course). In fact, we have far fewer road signs, and most of them are symbolic. That's one advantage of having a standard country-wide driving test - you can require people to know what the signs mean.

In the UK, our road signs are also awesome pieces of standardised design:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_signs ... dom#Design

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Plasma Man » Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:04 am UTC

Randall seems to have some kind of ongoing grudge against highway engineers.

I read the comic and went "meh", then read the title text and laughed. I didn't spot that the date for Star Wars was wrong, and to be honest, I don't care. The joke still works.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby westrim » Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:07 am UTC

Perhaps I'm just too tired to think or Caltrans (the Cal is key if you're tired) doesn't do this, or not being a driver I just haven't noticed. But aside from that, this is not the first time it seemed like Randall just banged out a comic at the last second. The Star Wars thing does not seem deliberate (perhaps he meant 1983?), and the 'I' was not thought out at all.

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby r3loaded » Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:15 am UTC

First time on XKCD here, and I'd like to point out that this is a curious US habit, rather than one of road engineers in general. In the UK, they're always written the correct way around, so it's "BUS STOP" and not "STOP BUS". The only problems arise in Wales and the Scottish Highlands, where they like to put the Welsh/Gaelic translation above the English. :roll:

Another trait of US road designers are using very wordy signs when a simple symbol would have done - the most infamous one in my mind is "Stop here on red". Seriously? Are drivers that dumb that they don't know they need to stop at a red light? Then there's the tautological "Left lane must turn left" - which we accomplish using a simple arrow :)
.
I could go on tbh - highway signs not aligned with lanes, stop signs at just about every junction even when they're completely unnecessary...

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:32 am UTC

RogueCynic wrote:So what if Randall confused the date on the Star Wars theme. Maybe John Williams stole it from some obscure piece.


It does sound a bit like Verdi at some point. But the thing is, then it would not be associated with crawling text yellow on black.

musashi1600 wrote:1977: A New Hope
1983: Return of the Jedi


If we are going to split hairs anyway, it wasn't "A new hope" or even "Episode IV" until some time after (it was probably decided at the time of "ESB" that it had been episode IV and that Star Wars was the name of the entire thing).
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby standinginherfield » Wed Aug 18, 2010 8:54 am UTC

What is the joke of the Star Wars theme if not that it involves driving backwards and apparently progressing backward through time?

Also, addressing the "wouldn't that be READ I" etc. folks: ya ...except that's not how writing looks on roads (which, as is obvious and has been said, is so that, in theory, you read it in order of your arrival upon the words/lines,) which is the basis for this comic being funny.

The failure to get that confuses me. And do tell about the Star Wars thing - would it be funny because of Yoda, is that the idea?

Edit:
Tass wrote:
standinginherfield wrote:And do tell about the Star Wars thing - would it be funny because of Yoda, is that the idea?


Star Wars intro. Text flying into the horizon. Would look much the same if you drive backwards on a road with text.

:idea: .
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:01 am UTC

bitwiseshiftleft wrote:Turns left? No!

No left turn unstoned. (Between 10AM and 6PM except on Sundays).

Also, I as well vote that the people who decided in '73 to put the road signs backwards due to people driving backwards listening to the Star Wars theme must read time backwards as well as road signs.

And:
r3loaded wrote:Then there's the tautological "Left lane must turn left"

That's not exactly tautological. In many places here, you may have several lanes which all continue straight through an intersection, and some which may or may not permit you to turn in one or another direction from them. (For instance; there is a three-lane freeway offramp in my town, from which the left or center lane can turn left onto the intersecting surface street, the right or center lane can turn right onto the same street, and the center lane may continue through the intersection back onto the freeway).

Left lanes usually permit you to turn left (unless otherwise marked), but don't usually oblige you to turn left; the sign is telling you that you are obliged.
Last edited by Pfhorrest on Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:11 am UTC, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby psyEDk » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:01 am UTC

-.Mateo.- wrote:
SocialSceneRepairman wrote:Never mind that - they were humming the Star Wars theme in 1973?


I know, that's the only thing I could think...seems like Randall had a major case of date-mix-up-itis


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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Tass » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:01 am UTC

standinginherfield wrote:And do tell about the Star Wars thing - would it be funny because of Yoda, is that the idea?


Star Wars intro. Text flying into the horizon. Would look much the same if you drive backwards on a road with text.

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:06 am UTC

standinginherfield wrote:What is the joke of the Star Wars theme if not that it involves driving backwards and apparently progressing backward through time?

Also, addressing the "wouldn't that be READ I" etc. folks: ya ...except that's not how writing looks on roads (which, as is obvious and has been said, is so that, in theory, you read it in order of your arrival upon the words/lines,) which is the basis for this comic being funny.

The failure to get that confuses me. And do tell about the Star Wars thing - would it be funny because of Yoda, is that the idea?


If you drive over it backwards, the writing resembles the crawling text that is the start of all the star wars movies. (Obviously the text is different but it would be in a similar style.) I don't think there was any time travel reference in the cartoon.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Tunga » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:11 am UTC

At the start of the Star Wards movies there is white text scrolling up the screen and angled as if it is moving away, a lot like driving backwards along a road reading (corrrectly ordered) text.

Actually came to post here about the UK thing, I've never seen text this way around and frankly it seems like a pretty stupid idea but I guess if you're used to it then it's fine.

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby twistees » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:13 am UTC

Why isn't this thread running backwards?

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highwayEngineer = unlines . reverse . lines

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Vapour » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:16 am UTC

The alt text made me chuckle.

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby paulisa » Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:47 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:Left lanes usually permit you to turn left (unless otherwise marked), but don't usually oblige you to turn left; the sign is telling you that you are obliged.


There's arrows for that too: the leftmost lane, on which it is compulsory to turn left, has an arrow pointing left. The second leftmost lane, on which you can turn left or go straight, has a combined arrow - straight and left. Where it is compulsory to drive straight, there is a straight arrow. Often, only the left-turners have a lane to themselves because they also have a separate traffic light if there is one and they usually stand longer in two-way traffic waiting for a chance to turn.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby littlelj » Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:02 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
r3loaded wrote:Then there's the tautological "Left lane must turn left"

That's not exactly tautological. In many places here, you may have several lanes which all continue straight through an intersection, and some which may or may not permit you to turn in one or another direction from them. (For instance; there is a three-lane freeway offramp in my town, from which the left or center lane can turn left onto the intersecting surface street, the right or center lane can turn right onto the same street, and the center lane may continue through the intersection back onto the freeway).

Left lanes usually permit you to turn left (unless otherwise marked), but don't usually oblige you to turn left; the sign is telling you that you are obliged.


The point is that in the UK we just paint an left arrow in the lane, as opposed to a straight-on-or-left arrow. Pictograms are more quickly processed than words. Those from the US who haven't yet read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_signs ... ed_Kingdom as linked earlier might like a quick peruse.

This comic amuses me muchly given http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-10936604 and the fact that UK roads have very few words painted on them. You occasionally get road names or places in lanes (e.g. the three lanes might read A556 N / K'FORD / A556 S, to show you which lane to be in to go north on the A556, to Knutsford or south on the A556 respectively), but I'm not sure I've ever seen more than two lines at a time.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Ronfar » Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:17 am UTC

r3loaded wrote:Another trait of US road designers are using very wordy signs when a simple symbol would have done - the most infamous one in my mind is "Stop here on red". Seriously? Are drivers that dumb that they don't know they need to stop at a red light?


"Stop here on red" means "stop here where the sign is, instead of at the intersection itself (which is where you'd normally stop)."
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Karilyn » Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:30 am UTC

michael24easilybored wrote:Dear XKCD writer. Have you considered that highway engineers might just know a few things about how people read road signs that you don't? Maybe, just maybe, it is easier for drivers to read road markings that are painted that way. Have you actually carried out and investigations into how people read best when trying to concentrate on the road? Stop assuming other people are all wrong.

Obviously doesn't work, cause I had to read that thing a half dozen times before I actually figured out what it said.

Then again, I don't think I've ever seen writing on roads that looks like this before. The closest I've seen is..

SCHOOL
X-ING

Which, to the best of my memory, I've never seen written backwards like that.
Last edited by Karilyn on Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:42 am UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Keiji » Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:34 am UTC

I'm so glad we don't have this silliness in Britain :D

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Mr. Burke » Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:37 am UTC

michael24easilybored wrote:Dear XKCD writer. Have you considered that highway engineers might just know a few things about how people read road signs that you don't? Maybe, just maybe, it is easier for drivers to read road markings that are painted that way. Have you actually carried out and investigations into how people read best when trying to concentrate on the road? Stop assuming other people are all wrong.

From his comics I gather that Randall is a weed-smoking hippie who doesn't own a car and has only passing knowledge of operating one. This would explain his unrealistic depictions of anything related to cars (see also Monday's comic).

For everything else, there's the weed.

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Karilyn » Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:42 am UTC

Another trait of US road designers are using very wordy signs when a simple symbol would have done - the most infamous one in my mind is "Stop here on red". Seriously? Are drivers that dumb that they don't know they need to stop at a red light? Then there's the tautological "Left lane must turn left" - which we accomplish using a simple arrow

Specifically.

"Stop here on red" means stop HERE. RIGHT HERE! They are typically used in places where due to the unusual angle of two roads intersecting, you have to be farther back from the red light than typical, in order not to be in the way of traffic. You could identify the same thing by paying attention to the lines on the ground, though I can think of a few places in my local town where you could risk being clipped by cars turning left if you got as close to the red light as you do at most intersections.

"Left lane must turn left" means, once again exactly what it says. The difference is, that on two and four lane roads, there is often not a specific turning lane for turning left. In this case, the "leftmost" lane can turn either left, or go forward. "Left lane must turn left" is fairly uncommon actually, and the only place I remember seeing that sign is where a 6 lane road became a 5 lane road, and if you DIDN'T turn left (despite the fact that the road didn't have a clear turn lane), you'd go head-first into oncoming traffic, because your lane ceases to exist.

These particularly screwed up roads, tend to occur most often in cities where due to increased traffic volume over the years, they've had to make up solutions as they went along. Stupid two lane roads getting turned into one way roads.

littlelj wrote:Those from the US who haven't yet read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_signs ... ed_Kingdom as linked earlier might like a quick peruse.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say those signs look ridiculously overcomplicated compared to US signs.

But hey, here's a list of all the signs we use in the US: http://www.trafficsign.us/

We use pictograms too...
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby mamarley » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:01 am UTC

Lane This Trucks No

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby uncivlengr » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:05 am UTC

Randall seems to have quite a fascination with "highway engineers" - this is the third comic that I can think of regarding them.

michael24easilybored wrote:Dear XKCD writer. Have you considered that highway engineers might just know a few things about how people read road signs that you don't? Maybe, just maybe, it is easier for drivers to read road markings that are painted that way. Have you actually carried out and investigations into how people read best when trying to concentrate on the road? Stop assuming other people are all wrong.
Yes, clearly it's everyone else's fault for not reading like an engineer thinks they should. It's just a coincidence that everyone here shares the same comprehension "fault".

If by "concentrating on the road" you mean "not looking more than ten feet in front of your bumper" then I hope you won't be operating any vehicle anytime soon.
r3loaded wrote:Another trait of US road designers are using very wordy signs when a simple symbol would have done - the most infamous one in my mind is "Stop here on red". Seriously? Are drivers that dumb that they don't know they need to stop at a red light?
I have noticed the excessive use of textual signs while travelling in the US as well - overhead signs will have simple arrow signs indicating the direction in which the lane turns, but there will also be another sign with "Left turning lane only" with it, seemingly to reinforce the concept for anyone who understands english but not arrows.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby howardtj43147 » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:07 am UTC

At least they spelled the words correctly and don't need to go back to "shcool".

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:08 am UTC

paulisa wrote:There's arrows for that too: the leftmost lane, on which it is compulsory to turn left, has an arrow pointing left. The second leftmost lane, on which you can turn left or go straight, has a combined arrow - straight and left. Where it is compulsory to drive straight, there is a straight arrow. Often, only the left-turners have a lane to themselves because they also have a separate traffic light if there is one and they usually stand longer in two-way traffic waiting for a chance to turn.

What does an unmarked lane mean, then? Everywhere in the US I can think of that I've driven (which is a big chunk of everywhere west of the Mississippi), an unmarked left lane may turn left or go straight, unless other signs (e.g. "one way" to the right only or "no entrace" ahead) indicate otherwise.

We do often also have arrows on the roads here (such as at the complicated intersection I described before), but the printed "left lane must turn left" is to emphasize that the left-arrow doesn't just mean you MAY turn left, but that you MUST, and you CANNOT go straight. Because the default is that, if it's not marked and not otherwise indicated, you can do either; so the absence of a forward-arrow on the arrow signs is not obviously an indication that you can't go forward, since the absence of any arrow at all would imply that you can.

If everyone always clearly understood that a left arrow with no forward arrow meant left turn only, the extra sign would be strictly unnecessary. But people are dumb and misinterpretation is understandable as described above. So it's basically idiot-proofing.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby chrth » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:12 am UTC

For those that think Randall is unconcerned about what highway engineers think, I present: http://xkcd.com/277/
Although maybe he's had too many experiences with these results: http://xkcd.com/253/ (Boston is too low on the list, btw)

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby eran_rathan » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:16 am UTC

"Every time someone designs something idiot proof, Nature makes a better idiot."

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Karilyn » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:18 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:If everyone always clearly understood that a left arrow with no forward arrow meant left turn only, the extra sign would be strictly unnecessary. But people are dumb and misinterpretation is understandable as described above. So it's basically idiot-proofing.

I wouldn't even call it idiot-proofing. More like "Unfamiliar driver" proofing.

If I'm ever driving through a city that I've never been too before, I can guarantee you I'll wind up in an awkward position. Hell, I can even identify some awkward roads where I live, and regularly watch people mess them up and get horns blown at them, mostly by a bunch of impatient rude people who don't realize the person hasn't drove in town before, so they should give them a break.

Best example I have from where I live, is where one 5 lane road intersects a minor highway. On one side of the intersection, the minor highway is a 5 lane road, on the other side, it's a 6 lane road. The 5 lane road sprouts a right hand turning (Remember, these are American roads here, a right lane turn does not cross traffic). This right hand turning lane, becomes the 6th lane of the minor highway, accompanied by a "Right Lane should not stop" (I forget the exact wording) and a pictogram sign because it's supposed to seamlessly become a new lane on the highway, and not require a merger.

UNFORTUNATELY, nobody seem stop get this unless they are familiar with the road, AND the sign is badly placed where it's hard to see, so people traveling through the town regularly stop there, assuming that they need to merge (like 99% of right hand turns), when they don't. Cue traffic jam, and rude people trying to drive off the side of the road around them while sitting on their horns and trying to cause a wreck because OH MY GOD THIS PERSON IS WASTING 10 SECONDS OF MY TIME OH MY GOD I HATE THEM FOREVER.
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby mc-kreef » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:28 am UTC

comic #781 backwards, u get 187
Image

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby chrth » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:42 am UTC

In before "Why is everyone saying Randall wrote 1973 when it clearly says 1977!?"

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby mheney » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:45 am UTC

Yep - Randall seems to have corrected the title text. is this a first for XKCD?

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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby chrth » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:54 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I wouldn't even call it idiot-proofing. More like "Unfamiliar driver" proofing.


I agree it's not idiot-proofing. While assisting unfamiliar drivers is also good, I also consider it more of an emphasis that if you find yourself in the wrong lane, go with it because trying to rectify the situation by stopping and changing lanes can/will make the situation much, much worse.

I also think the "Left lane must turn left" implicitly excludes U-Turns from the left lane, but I'm not positive on that front.

tjunction
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby tjunction » Wed Aug 18, 2010 11:57 am UTC

The rest of the world copes just fine without roads and roadsigns as wordy as those you Americans have.

As has already been said, at junctions we use arrows to indicate which way you may or may not go (a "left or straight on" lane will have an arrow that splits into two heads, one carrying straight on, the other pointing left).

There is always a solid white stop line painted across the road before a traffic light, and everybody knows you have to stop at the stop line - it's just the way it is. (The only exception is temporary traffic lights around road works, where they obviously don't paint a line on the road, instead using a temporary sign that says "When red light shows wait here" - but you'd never get both a line and a sign at the same set of lights...).

And the only phrases you'll see painted on the road are either single lines of text ("SLOW" or a short direction beneath an arrow to indicate which lane you should be in for a particular road/direction) or occasionally two lines of text (normally "BUS STOP" or "BUS LANE" or "KEEP CLEAR" - it is always possible to read these in one glance so there isn't a need for the bizarre backwards writing. The same goes for road signs - it's very rare for a sign to have more than two or three words of text in one place, simply because that way people can read and understand it quickly - and signs are almost always written in lower case, in a standard purpose-designed typeface, again to make them easy to read.

So when you're used to all that, it makes it really hard as a tourist in New York or wherever to figure out what a "LANE FIRE" is, or why on earth anyone would think that was better than writing "FIRE LANE", if indeed such a lane designation is necessary.

Iggy
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby Iggy » Wed Aug 18, 2010 12:36 pm UTC

Randomness wrote:Well that explains Yoda's speech patterns.

Explains much, this does: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdcJVuylmsM

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scarecrovv
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Re: "Ahead Stop" discussion (#781)

Postby scarecrovv » Wed Aug 18, 2010 12:43 pm UTC

mheney wrote:Yep - Randall seems to have corrected the title text. is this a first for XKCD?

Nope. He's made corrections many times before. Sometimes even to the image.


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