Ambiguous Visual Controls

Ambiguous Visual Controls: Stop on Green

By Jon Miller Updated on February 26th, 2019

One of the small remaining delights in foreign travel after 15 years of it is the discovery of yet another laughably ambiguous visual control. Something about them tickles the sense of humor that has been punished by jet lag and questionable menu choices. This latest ambiguous visual control comes from one of my favorite countries, which shall go nameless to protect the innocent.

What’s wrong with this picture? Not so much, until my traveling companion and Gemba team member stops, then runs this red traffic light. Can you guess why?

Normal stop sign behavior. He stopped at the stop sign at eye level, not noticing the red traffic light above him, then continued on through cross traffic. Luckily no harm done.

Perhaps these stop signs are extra precautions at a busy intersection to prevent drivers in a hurry from attempting to run red or yellow lights. But then what do we do in this situation?

Unfortunately (?) we always seemed to catch the red light and never saw how traffic flowed when approaching the green+stop combination. Everyone was at a stop (red light) when the light turned green. Maybe this double-stop is just a local standard or an attempt at mistake proofing. But then a block later…

Stop signs at a traffic light… then it occurs to me: STOP. English isn’t even close to being an official language here. The mystery deepens. So perhaps some rebel youths brought a few stop signs back from America and decided to hang them up on the traffic lights as a joke, or to add a bit of flair to this particularly drab intersection. But the stop sign erected at the right side of the street looked like a rather professional job.

This country just keeps on giving when it comes to ambiguous visual controls. Here is the entrance to the hotel garage we drove into.

For bonus points, can you spot the ambiguous visual control in this picture?

  1. Mike

    July 25, 2008 - 4:25 am

    I’ll take a stab at it. I understand Do Not Enter, and the next seems to be saying natural gas autos or cylinders of gas are not allowed inside the garage. The third from the left is the height. That leaves the 5 kilometers sign. To where? From where? That’s the one I don’t understand.

  2. Dwane Lay

    July 25, 2008 - 8:21 am

    Well, the do not enter makes sense when viewed in the larger picture (over the exit) and next to the entrance sign.
    But…are cars with gas not allowed? Or no cars in general? Or does it mean you can’t get gas inside? Or that you can’t haul containers of gas in a compact car?

  3. Ernesto Jorge

    July 25, 2008 - 10:20 am

    I think the main ambiguity here is that you have a “wrong direction” signal next to others that explain how to go on. They should have separated the “wrong direction” signal to the left, and the other four ones should have been grouped to the right. If people in that country reads from left to right, this second group should be started by the “arrow” signal, and the restraints.
    I agree with Dwayne that that “gas” signal is ambiguous. My guess goes together with Mike: “natural gas autos not allowed inside”. And for the “5 km”, I think it wanted to say “5 km/h”, the speed limit inside the garage.
    It remains the mystery of the country language, but cyrillic alphabet in wall signs suggests East Europe. It’s very likely that “STOP” has been adopted instead some other word for simplicity.

  4. Russ

    July 27, 2008 - 9:12 am

    Interesting observations from lean thinking individuals, might our own culture / paradigm be a part of how we see. So important to integrate into the culture we are in. May it be a team or a country. in North Carolina one can not turn right on a red light, is this ambiguity? I would submit that the locals that live there may find the visuals to work and possibly sound reason for the difference in the set ups.

  5. Jon Miller

    July 31, 2008 - 2:49 pm

    Hi Russ,
    Yes, your example from North Carolina is a case of ambiguity.
    When a red light sometimes means “turn on red ok” and other times “turn on red not ok” then this is by definition ambiguous. Anytime we hear the words maybe, sometimes, it depends, can be, etc. we are facing ambiguity.
    The signs may work for locals, but it is a public road. Non-locals drive it. Locals want non-locals not to have accidents and hurt the locals. Ambiguity does not help accomplish this goal.
    Red lights, and visual controls in general, do not exist to strengthen a local culture: they exist to identify abnormalities and prevent errors.

  6. Chris

    August 5, 2008 - 4:17 am

    What is the problem with lights and signs? You need to study traffic laws of foreign countries, too, when traveling! The sequence is: first lights then signs (when lights are off). Makes sense, doesn’t it.
    One more: What would you do if you approach a light (with additional stop sign) and a police officer is directing the traffic? Of course you’d follow the officers orders first.

  7. Jon Miller

    August 5, 2008 - 10:08 am

    Good point Chris. If it is the law, it doesn’t change the fact that having both “stop” and “go” at the same time is ambiguous. And more to the point, why did none of the other intersections have both stop sign and traffic sign?

  8. Robert

    August 11, 2008 - 1:14 am

    I see you love Hungary 🙂 We deliver some good topics.
    Funny is, that -in most cases- we cannot explain our traffic signs, because of “not-exactly-perfect” allocation/use. The reaction is: most of the time we don’t care.
    That’s why it is very important, to speak about these problems.

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