Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Ban Sign Waving? – Why Not Just Ban Driving?

Posted by Ed C on Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Anne Arundel panhandling bill would ban sign wavers.

Okay, this is an issue that is not going to threaten the existence of our Republic, but the underlying Nanny-ism behind it irks me. Are certain elected representatives idiots and project that on the rest of us or do they just feel that the public is too stupid to live without their guidance?

A bill being considered by the General Assembly and sponsored by the AA-County Senate Delegation would include a ban on political sign waving in a bill to prohibit roadside solicitation. The bill is supported by the three AA-County Democratic Senators and was opposed by the two Republicans.

Democrat Sen. Ed DeGrange: “What are those people on the side of the road trying to do? They’re trying to get a motorist to look at [them] instead of concentrating on what [the drivers are] doing,”

County spokeswoman Rhonda Wardlaw called the ban on campaign wavers “a small price to pay in order to get a public safety bill passed.”

All in the name of safety? Safety at any price? Are they next going to propose removing all traffic signs like speed limit and road direction signs? I mean those are specifically designed for drivers to look at them too. How about banning traffic stops by police officers during rush hour? Having a police car with flashing lights on the road side causes some people to slam on the breaks while others are busy looking at the unfolding “excitement” – surely this is an unsafe situation too.

Yes, driving is dangerous and a very complex activity. However, it is the responsibility of the driver to operate their own vehicle in a safe manner. It is impossible to try to legislate each and every possible “distraction” that could impact a driver, but that does not seem to stop some people from trying.

I’m not advocating that our candidates can hide in the bushes and then jump out to startle passing motorists, but picking a safe location to stand and sign wave should not be a hindrance to any safe, competent driver. If a someone is creating an unsafe situation, I’m sure that a passing law enforcement officer could direct them to someplace more appropriate or take other action to correct the problem.

Maybe this is just another “protect the incumbent” maneuver by some that don’t like to sign wave and see this as a chance to ban it under the guise of public safety.


17 Responses to “Ban Sign Waving? – Why Not Just Ban Driving?”

  1. jim adams said

    You have to admit, it is easier to bane sign waving, than developers and realtor’s signs. Wonder why? Incumbents, naw, money,naw. Developers and realtor’s signs are better looking when they are bunched together or flying around on the roads or floating in the bay.

  2. bsflag2007 said

    I agree with the nannyism comments —- though I would not be completely unhappy to see political sign waving disappear…. if only to avoid doing it again for the candidates I support.

    Seriously, though, what is more American/Democratic and available to all than the right to stand on a public road and wave a sign demonstrating one’s right to free speech and expression?

    cindy v.

  3. jim adams said

    I have waved with political signs for the last 4 elections cycles, and I was chased away from one site by the police for my own safty. It is dangerous to stand on the side of the road with hunks of metal travling next to you at high rates of speed.

    But as long as the other candidates are doing it, you do it. It’s an inexpensive way to get your name out there. Also you take the sign with you when you leave, so your not littering.
    Unlike the developers signs,that litter the highways, when the election is over, your sign becomes part of the landfill.

    It is an expression of free speech, but I feel safty is a good reason to ban sign waving. Until then I hope to see you on the road side in 2008.

  4. bsflag2007 said

    As far as safety goes — i make a mental note of the folks who are in dumb spots (as well as those standing out in the rain) — doing either of those things helps me decide…… i don’t vote for anyone who doesn’t have the sense to get in out of the rain.

    The littering and landfill question intriques me. After and election the quantity of mostly waterproof and uniformly sized material is enormous — if only there could be some use for these materials.

    My neighbor was constructing wagon type vehicles for the local High School Band equipment and used some of our signs as light weight waterproof lining/insulation.

    As I understand it, however, these materials burn very fast and emit potentially toxic smoke – which makes them a poor building material.

    If the sign manufacturers could offer a recycleable product —- maybe that could double as rigid insulation later – it would not be such a tragic waste.

    cindy v.

  5. jim adams said

    Cindy V, run for office in 2010. It would be catchy to see you give the Victory sign. It may change our culture, we would stop thinking Victory, and think Cindy V.

  6. bsflag2007 said

    Very sweet – but I don’t think I’ll ever run for anything ever again —- but if someone wants to appoint me to be queen for a day, I’m open on thursdays.


  7. jim adams said

    Cindy, I am sure that your husband would agree with me, you should be appointed queen for every day of the week.

    What office did you run for? Did you win?

  8. cindy vaillancourt said

    i ran for school board in the primary in 2004 – i did only slightly better than the woman who dropped out – though i consider my candidacy to have been a complete success since my major goals were accomplished before the election or shortly thereafter (i hope with some help from me) – plus, on a per vote basis, I spent less than 4cents per vote – which compares very favorably to the $ spent by others.

    cindy v.

  9. A lot of this is directed at AA County Executive John Leopold, who is the leading proponent of legislation to ban panhandling in Anne Arundel County, but is also the guy who basically imported sign waving to Maryland in 1982 from his political career in Hawaii.

    My thoughts on John Leopold aside, the ban on sign waving does not pass Constitutional muster.

  10. Anti-Developer said

    I’m OK with sign waving, as long as the person is with the sign. What sort of weak-minded person is going to be convinced by a sign waver?

    I was told by a County employee that the developer signs were legal. I was also told by a county employee that I could be charged if I removed the ones near my neighborhood.

    Columbia Builders replaces its signs within 24 hours. When I took 1 down, they replaced them with 2. I took the 2 down and they replaced them with 4. I am scared to take them down.

    I also called the County complaint line (several times) and got NO RESPONSE even after a month.

    When I lived in Montgomery County, they called me back the next day. Even DC calls back within 48 hours.

    Howard County government has totally caved to the developers.

  11. cindy vaillancourt said

    where are the signs the county is saying are legal?

    during the last election cycle I called the hghway department about the signs they collect to find out where they dispose of them — and got a real education on the ins and outs of which agencies control which roadways.

    depending on the road – the county person may not even have jurisdiction to make such a claim. some roads are adminidstered by the state – etc.

    you may recall that on some state controlled roads – illegally placed o’malley signs were removed… and within hours ehrlich signs magically appeared in their place. I’m sure similiar coincindinces occurred in baltimore county.

    the bottom line is that howard county has sign laws — permits are needed, that kind of thing — so even if the developer signs are actually on private property abutting county roads (which you should not trespass on) they would still need to have permits/licenses.

    HoCo has sign ordinances that restrict thigs like size, number, materials – they have to be applied for and approved. The sign inspector can issue a fine of $50 per day for illegally placed signs (at least that’s what is was when my business signs were cited – there had been a change in the “banner” rules).

    it sounds like you may have gotten some incomplete or just incorrect info from the person you spoke to at the county.

    on the other hand —- there are some pretty wierd places along hoco roads that one would assume are hoco property or rights of way that are actually private property — so it can be a pretty wild ride determining exactly who is in charge of what.

    good luck in your citizens arrest of ilegal signs project.

    cindy v.

  12. jim adams said

    Wouldn’t it be safer if candidates could not wave signs,
    Wouldn’t it be less obstructive if developers could not post signs.
    Wouldn’t there be less waste in the landfill,cleaner for the enviroment,and less expense to the county and state for cleaning up the signs.

    Let’s outlaw the signs.

    Of course candidates would have to raise more money and homes would be more expensive because of having to use other modes to advertise and sign makes would loss revenue.

    Sounds like we would be shifting cost and responsbility to those who benefit the most, from those who benefit the least.

    Any other thoughts.

  13. hocoterp said

    Sen. Ed DeGrange must have never driven a road like Rt. 40. Every business has a sign that is trying to get a motorist to look at it, and yet you don’t hear about daily crashes along the road. When K-mart was going out of business there were people on the street corners waving signs and further east on Rt. 40 you had someone flipping a Quizno’s sign all over the place. I don’t know of any accidents that can be attributed to those signs. I also don’t know of any accidents that can be attributed to a candidate waving a sign (although if you know of a case, please share). Given that sign waving has been a part of the past several campaign cycles, and that candidates are out every day for months waving signs, there’s a good survey size to determine if sign waving causes accidents. I’m willing to bet that there is no statistically significant correlation between sign waving and accidents. If it’s not a problem, then we don’t need to legislate a solution.

    In response to Jim, I’m not sure I follow the argument in your last post. You say outlawing signs will “shift cost and responsibility to those who benefit the most, from those who benefit the least.” Considering political campaigns, the people who benefit the most from outlawing signs are the candidates who have the money to pay for additional mailings and advertisement to increase their name recognition. Outlawing sign waving increases the importance of money in an election, and I don’t think that benefits anyone.

  14. jim adams said

    I am glad you responed, my intent was to create discussion. I think both sides of this issue could be defended well.

    Like you I would bet there is no statistically significant correlation between sign waving and accidents. But we know that too often we wait until an accident occurs before we take the necessary steps of prevention. Case in point, even if it does not relate directly. The two young people killed in a car accident in Clarksville, because the red light was not working. Now Senator Robey is trying to have a bill passed to prevent such a thing happening again, and how long have we had redlights in the county?

    In reference to signs, I have sold two homes of mine, I have run for office more than once, and in both situations benefitted greatly from signs, and would use signs again.

    If signs were outlawed I would, surely, lose out to the better financed candidate because of the postage issue. There is one option that I would employee to offset the postage question. Door to door, I think it trumps signs, mailing, forum, and all others approaches to winning a campaign, even when the other person has more money.

    One more thought, realestate, developer signs. I see the value, I spoke to it above. But wouldn’t it be relaxing to ride along the road and think about those things we have lost touch with, like trees, large open fields, well landscaped homes.Like they do in the movies on a beautiful sunny ride through the county. It would be like listening to you radio or watching T.V. without commericals ( doctor visits across the country are up 40%, because of stress )

    Another thought, next winter may not be as kind as this pass winter. The money spent by state and local governments to clean up and pick up signs could be spent on snow removal,this may even prevent taxes from increasing.

    Wow, a stress free ride home, more money in my pocket, I like this idea.

    Your turn Hocoterp.

  15. cindy vaillancourt said

    This is one of those “mixing apples and oranges” things that makes me a little nutty.

    A problem with littering morphs into “banning” people standing on the side of the road waving signs. or is it the other way around?

    It seems to me there are at least three – maybe four – separate issues:
    1) littering
    2) personal responsiblity versus public interest in pedestrian safety
    3) political free speech
    4) moving objects on the road side creating a traffic hazard. (did you know that hoco has a whole category in it’s sign law about signs which have moving parts and ones with lights that move or blikn or twinkle?)

    If the problem is littering – enforce exisiting littering laws

    If the problem is moving objects on the side of the road – talk to the sign police (we do have them)

    If the problem is loitering on a public throughway … do we have loitering laws?

    Pedestrians are already prohibted from certain roads and parts of roads — if it isn’t safe for a sign waver it isn’t a safe route for a school child (btw, there are official walking routes to hoco schools that involve intentionally having the kids walk on the side of a travelled road.)

    Anyway —- maybe, like so many other issues which prompt people to jump to new regulations, it is more a matter of enforcing exisiting laws and regs.

    cindy v.

  16. hocoterp said

    Cindy makes a good point that there a couple different issues being discussed in the post. With regards to the small developer signs that blanket county roads, I wouldn’t shed a tear if I never saw one of them again. While there are similarities between the developer signs and candidates sign waving, sign waving raises a much larger issue of political speech. In considering whether sign waving should be banned, I look at the importance of political speech and weigh that against the possible negative consequences of sign waving as well as the consequences of trying to legislate more and more aspects of public life.

    Jim is right that for a local election, going door-to-door trumps sign waving, mailings, and newspaper ads, and it doesn’t cost money. Problem is, people don’t take kindly to having a stranger knock on their door at 7:30 in the morning when they are trying to get the kids to school and make it to work. Sign waving still has its value. In this case I come down on the side of political free speech and not trying to legislate against every possible problem.

    Which brings me to the example that Jim referenced, the tragic case in Clarksville where two people were killed because a driver went through an intersection where a stop light was not working. Lest I be called callous, let me repeat that it was tragic that two people were killed because of a reckless driver. However, I just re-read the Ho Co Times article, and I am not convinced that having Robey’s legislation (SB935) in place before the accident would have prevented the accident. First, the police acknowledged “that a series of missteps led officers to fail to mark or staff the signal.” The steps to prevent it from happening were probably in place, but they were not followed. The police should have manned the traffic light, and police orders have been clarified to prevent that from happening again.

    The second reason the law likely would not have prevented the accident is because it is mostly punishes after the fact. Outside of Howard County, and outside of people who read about the Clarksville accident or people who follow every change to the criminal code, it has a minimal preventative value. Very few people will know that there might be a state law requiring drivers to stop before crossing an intersection when a traffic light is not functioning. For any law to prevent someone from committing a certain act, that person must first know something about the law and know that what they are about to do is illegal.

    I realize that very few pieces of legislation achieve the preventative status that they should. However, in this case, if a person does not have the common sense to realize “I should stop before crossing a road from an exit ramp” then they are probably not going to know that it is illegal. You cannot legislate common sense. And in reality, regardless of all the laws that they pass in Annapolis, common sense should dictate that when you approach a stop sign that is not properly functioning, you slow down and stop, especially when you are crossing the main road. Bill Howard, the father of one of the victims said, “If people drive with more common sense, then Tara’s death… will make the state a safer place.” Yes, if everyone drives with more common sense it will be safer. Legislation alone will not change that.

    All that being said, I would still vote for Robey’s bill because 1) it makes illegal an action that is obviously wrong and potentially harmful and 2) there is no apparent harm in passing the law. To bring the “we wait until after the accident occurs to act” argument back to sign waving, if someone was injured in an accident that was caused by sign waving, it would be awful, but it would not change my position. Although the banning sign waving would remove a potential source of harm to drivers during their morning commute, the act of sign waving is not obviously wrong and there is the harm of limiting political speech. In weighing which benefits society more, reducing one potential source of harm or protecting political speech, in this case I choose protecting political speech. You cannot legislate common sense and you cannot legislate against every potential harm.

  17. jim adams said

    There can be a mix of logic, law, and even, emotion in most discussions.

    Cindy I think you did a fine job with the logic in your apples and oranges approach.

    Hocoterp, good points made from a legal view.

    For what ever value it may or may not have, Hocoterp reminded me of something.

    Tara’s grave is not far from my wife’s grave. The Valentine’s day after Tara’s death, it snowed at least a couple of inch’s. Around 9:00 p.m. I went to my wife’s grave to place a few flowers there. I was surprised that there was someone else out there that late at night. It was Tara’s boyfriend. He had cleared the snow away from the side of her grave and had been sitting there for some time. We talked for more than an hour and when I left I said a little prayer that he would live a long life, his hurt would go away and he would find happiness.

    I find it ever so rewarding that whether through law or logic or because of our feelings we try to make it a better world.

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