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Deminski: Blue line talk nearing hysteria in New Jersey

Think Blue Line on NJ Roads
Hackettstown painted this line down the center of West Stiger Street. (Hackettstown Police)

I have to shake my head and laugh at all the politicians who are scrambling to get in front of microphones and cameras to express their outrage at the feds over the blue line issue. If you missed it, many New Jersey towns are painting blue lines on streets in the gap between the double solid yellow lines as a show of support for police. Keyword here is show. Supporters want to show how great they are. Show how patriotic and supportive they are. How good they are. The problem is the feds have pointed out that these lines render the no passing zones meaningless. And of course instead of admitting the feds are right, these politicians are falling all over themselves pretending to be apoplectic about what a great injustice this is.

Feds tell NJ towns to stop painting blue lines in support of police

Here’s how it all happened. With the best of intentions, more and more Jersey towns painted these blue lines, filling in the space between the double yellows. It is the same thing that has been done in some towns on a temporary basis for a charitable breast cancer run (pink lines) or a St. Patrick’s Day parade (green lines). The problem is it has always been illegal. When an engineer in Somerset County by the name of Matthew Loper inquired with the federal government to be certain this was all proper, the answer from the feds surprised a lot of people. The answer was no. Here’s why. They cited the MUTCD, or the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. This is a legal manual defining all the signs and road markings that all fifty states will recognize, thus the inclusion of the word ‘uniform.’ For example, in all fifty states, we know that a sign that is red and shaped like an octagon means stop, even if you don’t bother reading the word on it. The same is true for a sold yellow line with a broken yellow line. All fifty states recognize this means the side with the solid line is not allowed to pass but the side with the broken line is. And so on and so on.

It turns out by definition a no passing zone has to have two solid yellow line with a gap in the middle and NOTHING filling in that gap. Period. Every time a charitable cause has had the town paint a stripe in the center or a parade has brought about the same thing, it has technically rendered this traffic control device improper and therefore illegal and meaningless. The same with the blue lines. There is nothing in the MUTCD that is a solid yellow line with a solid blue line then another solid yellow line. Yes almost everyone would understand that it’s still a no passing zone, which is what the apoplectic supporters are screaming (again to prove how wonderful and supportive of the police they are), but the point is a legal one. It legally ceases to be a no passing zone. These center colored lines render it meaningless, and sooner or later it will be challenged in court to get out of tickets or to avoid fault for serious accidents.

Sure the jerk knew it was a no passing zone. My point is said jerk will go to court and use the blue line, or any other color line for that matter, to successfully argue that it was no longer a no passing zone because it clearly states in the MUTCD that a no passing zone must have two solid yellow lines with a gap in between ABSENT of any other marking. It is that cut and dry. And it’s ironic to me that New Jersey is up in arms screaming how these blue lines are necessary to show support for law enforcement, when enforcement of the law is the very crux of this matter.

What of the towns that don’t paint a blue line in a no passing zone? Are these blue line supporters so self-righteous that they’ll actually believe it means those towns DON’T support police? The best support we can give officers is full compliance during traffic stops regardless of the color of one’s skin and the benefit of the doubt when tragedies occur, not to mention better pay and benefits. This feel-good nonsense of blue lines to support police reminds me of the AIDS walk episode on Seinfeld. Kramer supported AIDS research and joined in an AIDS walk to raise money and awareness, but he didn’t feel like wearing the little red ribbon. People were outraged of course. One after another challenged him, accusing him of not supporting the cause even though he was clearly walking among them. “You no wear the ribbon!!!!???” Putting the symbol over the actions leads to a near riot in the episode.

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Still don’t get it? Think of it this way. Imagine after the terrible Dallas police ambush in which 5 officers were killed, they wanted to show support for police by taking a stop sign and making it a 5 sided pentagon instead of the octagon to represent the 5 lives lost. Or maybe add the words DISRESPECTING POLICE beneath the word STOP. It sounds very moving but it’s no longer a legal stop sign, is it? Now if they want to fight and legally change the definition of what a no passing zone is in the MUTCD so that these blue lines can be added no one should have a problem with that. Short of that happening, the feds are right and the self-righteous blue line supporters should watch that old Seinfeld episode and dial it back a notch.

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