When Signs Have The Power To Save Lives


We are a society that loves signs.

They can point us in the direction we want to go, and they can show us when we have strayed from our path. They can often tell us what we can do and what we can’t in a particular area, and sometimes, signs are just meant to boast our passion or support for something.

Some are neon, some blink, some flash, some are oddly creepy looking, some are meant to protect you from harm, while others are just there to be a reminder of how you should conduct yourself in public.

In recent years, we’ve been talking a lot about signs in this region. The “gentle reminder” profanity signs on the Boardwalk raised some eyebrows not because of the low cost to erect them, but rather the question of how an already strapped police force would enforce them. In the end, we remember Councilwoman Mary Knight saying, “the signs will make families feel good that we are even asking the question and reminding people to watch their language.”

For some, the sentiment played well, and to others, the signs are a joke; but the point is that those signs were never meant to save anyone’s life or uphold a law. On the other hand, the no-smoking signs that went up before this summer mirror signs what you see in the Delaware beaches, instructing people where they can and can’t light up. In that case, the smoking signs are much more practical and serve as a tool for officials to actually enforce a law that’s on the books, much like a parking sign or a road sign: if you don’t abide by the sign, you face a consequence or fine.

This week, public discussion has moved to a conversation about the town’s idea to potentially force some local businesses to erect signs on their properties that would remind spectators at popular car events what they can or can’t do (specifically drinking and causing damage to private and public property). This idea didn’t thrill some folks at City Hall on Tuesday night, as some argued that a few more signs weren’t going to solve the problem of unruly behavior during these events.

We can certainly see that side of the argument. Yet, let’s be honest, drunk and unruly people sitting on the side of a highway hollering at cars to “show me your horsepower” with a good old fashioned tire burn-out will likely pay about as much attention to those signs as a group of hormonal teens pays attention to a profanity sign.

On the other hand, we need to take into account that those proposed signs would be there both to aid law enforcement in upholding the law, and to show the general public that the town is trying to take steps (albeit baby ones) to fix behaviors that have become a problem during these car events in recent years.

Sometimes the mere existence of a sign can send a message, even to those not looking at it.

That leads us to the lack of signage on the beaches when conditions are rough and dangerous.

Would signage warning of rough surf and rip currents at the Inlet have prevented the unfortunate death of that 8-year-old little girl last week? Perhaps not, and one could argue that the resort instilling a similar sign or flag system like the one used on Assateague Island would not cut down on ocean rescues or drownings at all.

But if we are town with an arsenal of other types of signs, what is the real harm in putting up a few more at dangerous spots on our beloved stretch of real estate? What’s wrong with putting up a sign or flags posting “Rip Current Area” rather than watching unfamiliar ocean-goers time after time walk in an obvious rip current to those of who live here?

Every elected town official and public servant we have interviewed has said the same thing at one time or another: “you can’t put a price on public safety.”

We did it with the improved crosswalks and the corresponding public relations campaign that helped vastly reduce accidents and collisions on Coastal Highway. We are trying to do it to better the impact of these popular car shows on the community, and we did it with everything from swear words to cancer sticks.

Why not a little bit more on our main tourist attraction?

Because some signs have the power to save lives, too.

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