Question: Say you slide off the road in ice and snow and you take out a directional traffic sign (curve sign). I think it would be the right thing to do but is it necessary to report this? And, to whom?
Answer: I love that this question is posed as a hypothetical, but then includes such a specific detail as what type of traffic sign was (hypothetically) struck. It’s like when you go to the doctor with an embarrassing medical question and say, “Hey doc, I have this friend who was complaining of a burning sensation. ...” Maybe it really is a reader’s curiosity and the question just happened to come up during an icy stretch on our roads.
As you stated in the question, reporting the damage to the sign is the right thing to do. It is also legally required. RCW 46.52.010 has a section on what to do if a driver damages “property fixed or placed upon or adjacent to any public highway.”
That doesn’t specify signs outright, but it sure describes where they are. Actually, if a driver damages any kind of property, whether a sign, a fence or another car, the driver is required to make a reasonable effort to notify the property owner. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor.
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In the case of a road sign, the property owner would be the local government responsible for maintaining the sign or on a state route, the Department of Transportation. I spoke with an employee at Whatcom County Public Works for the best way to report a down sign on a county road; the process would be similar with any other local jurisdiction.
During regular business hours, drivers can call the public works office to report the downed sign (360-778-6400 for Whatcom County). If it’s after hours and the sign in question is critical to safety, like a stop sign, it should be reported to 911 so it can be repaired quickly.
To report a downed sign on a state route, I’d recommend visiting the DOT website (wsdot.wa.gov). Check in the “maintenance” section for contact information for the part of the state where the sign in question is located.
If you’re not sure which government agency is responsible for the road you’re on, keep it simple and call 911 to report the broken sign. The dispatchers know whom to call to get it fixed.
Just like any other damaged property, the driver who caused the damage is responsible not only for reporting it, but also for covering the costs of repair. Obviously, it would be pretty easy to call and report a broken sign without admitting to being the cause of the damage, so we have to rely on the good character of a driver who knocks down a sign to admit to the incident.
I’m hopeful that the icy weather is done for the winter, but February has a habit of bringing in a storm or two. If you’re the unfortunate victim of a sign getting in the way of your car, now you know how to report the broken sign.
Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information, go to TheWiseDrive.com. Ask a question.