Vehicle and traffic laws should be standard nationwide

Passing a stopped school bus with red lights flashing is against the law in New York state, as it is in all states. We know this, but are you aware of the differences in other states?

For instance, it’s illegal to pass a stopped school bus even if it is stopped on the other side of the median, unless you are in New Jersey, in which case you can continue driving but only at 10 mph — or if you are in Indiana, where you don’t even have to slow down for a stopped bus on the other side of a median. In Vermont you also don’t have to slow down for a bus stopped on the other side of a median.

Obviously laws for stopping for a school bus vary from state to state. Here’s another example: In New York you must stop no closer than 20 feet from the school bus in either direction, but in New Jersey you must stop at least 25 feet from the school bus.

It’s not just on stopped school buses that laws differ from state to state. In New York you must signal a lane change or a turn at least 100 feet before the lane change or turn, but in Indiana, you must signal your turn 200 feet prior if you are going less than 50 mph — and if you are going 50 or more, you must signal your turn or lane change a minimum of 300 feet before.

Pennsylvania law says you must signal a turn 100 feet before if you are traveling less than 35 mph, but if you are going at 35 or more, you must signal your turn at least 300 feet prior to the turn.

In New York state, your headlights must be on from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise, but if you are driving in Pennsylvania, headlights are mandatory from sunset to sunrise, a full hour longer than in New York. Furthermore, in Pennsylvania it is a law to turn on your full headlights whenever you are driving through a work zone.

My point in this article is that 50 or more years ago, people didn’t drive all over the country like they do today, not counting restrictions due to COVID-19. But with our mobile modern society, we all drive routinely in many different states. Are we supposed to know all the different state laws applicable as we drive? The answer is yes, but in reality, no driver can know all the differing laws governing driving in the different states.

So why doesn’t the federal government mandate the same driving laws for everyone? It has done exactly that with the national Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for all streets and highways in the 50 states. The reason behind this is to foster uniformity throughout the nation. A driver who sees a particular traffic control device (signs, signals and pavement markings) should expect the same conditions and be prepared to take the same action, whether he or she is on a town road in Franklin County or on an expressway in Missouri. This is the goal of uniform traffic control devices.

If all traffic control devices are standard throughout the nation so drivers in all 50 states know exactly what to expect, no matter where they are driving, why not vehicle and traffic laws? Shouldn’t they be the same in every state? I’d love to know your opinion.


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