Warning signs coming down

Beginning next week, the Seymour Department of Public Works will take down all traffic caution signs that don’t comply with federal code.

Targeted signs for removal include all “Caution, children at play,” “Caution, autistic child in area” and “Caution, deaf child in area,” along with others. The signs do not conform to the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which regulates road markings, signs and traffic signals, officials said.

An estimated 300 to 400 signs will be removed, said Bill Everhart, director of DPW.

Mayor Craig Luedeman said he made the recommendation to city council Monday for two main reasons: The city could be held responsible if the signs remain up and a child is injured, and the city could lose federal road funding.

“It’s something we’ve been going back and forth on,” Luedeman said. “I understand why people want them, I do, but it’s just too much of a risk for the city.”

The council voted unanimously to remove the signs. No one from the public spoke during the meeting.

Questions about the signs arose recently after a mother requested the city install autism awareness traffic signs near her home on East Brown Street. Catelynn Niewedde has a 4-year-old autistic son and said the signs warn motorists to be more careful and observant when driving in the area.

She and other families with special needs children would benefit from having such signs in place, she said.

“A child with autism simply doesn’t understand that playing near a street is dangerous,” she said. “They don’t understand that if they see a friend across the street that they just can’t run across to get to them.”

That’s because many children with autism don’t experience fear in the same way other children do, she said.

But Luedeman and some council members disagree that the signs are effective in changing people’s driving habits. They aren’t even sure who authorized the signs to go up in the first place.

Council President Jim Rebber said his concern is if the council were to leave the signs up, people would continue to request more signs be installed.

“It sounds like a no-brainer to me,” Councilman Dave Earley added about the decision to take down the signs.

The signs alone don’t make children safe, Niewedde added.

“They’re to make drivers aware that there are children in the area that don’t understand simple safety guidelines like looking both ways before you cross a street,” she said.

Niewedde said motorists often speed down her street, putting her son and other children at risk.

“It doesn’t matter if I sit my son down daily to explain to him the dangers of the road, he simply can’t understand it,” she said. “He can tell you that a car might hit him, but beyond that, he doesn’t understand.”

She said the signs also are an attempt to get people to be less noisy when they are in the neighborhood because autistic children have sensory processing disorders where noises are painful to them.

Niewedde said the signs are not to keep parents from teaching their children not to play in or near the road.

“What our city and government officials don’t understand is that an autistic child lacks the ability to understand what can happen to them if they run into the road,” she said.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.