Street sign theft
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Street sign theft occurs when street signs are stolen, often to be used as decorations, but also sometimes to avoid obeying the law by claiming later the sign was not there. Although the theft often seems arbitrary, signs that are unusual or amusing tend to be stolen more frequently. Sometimes considered to be a prank by the perpetrators, the theft is often costly and inconvenient (and can possibly be dangerous) for the municipality or agency that owns the sign. In the United States, each street sign generally costs between $100 and $500 to replace.
In most jurisdictions, the theft of traffic signage is treated like any other theft with respect to prosecution and sentencing. If, however, the theft leads to an injury, then the thieves may be found criminally liable for the injury as well, provided that an injury of that sort was a foreseeable consequence of such a theft. In one notable United States case, three people were found guilty of manslaughter for stealing a stop sign and thereby causing a deadly collision. This was publicized in the novel Driver's Ed by Caroline B. Cooney.
Some jurisdictions place stickers on street signs warning of the legal punishment for their theft. Some cities (e.g. Toronto) use specially designed bolts to attach signs and prevent removal. With some of the more popular street names such as Liverpool's famous "Penny Lane", authorities gave up the practice of constantly replacing signs and simply resorted to painting the name of the street on the walls. Other jurisdictions offer replica street signs for sale to discourage theft. For route markers or mile markers that contain numbers with suggestive meanings, such as 69, 420, or 666, the number may be changed to avoid sign theft.
In popular culture
- The sign for South Park Street in Lawrence, Kansas has been stolen on several occasions, prompting the city to install theft-proof bolts on the sign.
- Brickyard Road, Lakeside, Florida. Fans repeatedly stole the road sign because Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zant was living there before his death in 1977 and his brother, Johnny Van Zant, released an album and single called Brickyard Road in 1990. The county eventually erected a concrete pillar with the street name painted on it, as opposed to a traditional road sign.
- Leganés, Spain dedicated some streets to rock groups like AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Rosendo. The AC/DC sign was stolen days after inauguration. Leganés authorities now offer identical signs for sale.
- State, provincial or federal highways in many countries may face sign theft issues if their route number has popular culture connotations. Numbers especially prone to theft include 69 because of its use as a slang term for simultaneous oral sex, 420 because of its connection to marijuana culture, and 666 because of its association with the Biblical Number of the Beast. Three highways numbered 69 in the United States had to be renumbered due to sign theft: Route 69 in New Jersey was renumbered to Route 31 in 1967, State Highway 69 in Texas was renumbered to State Highway 112 in 1992, and State Route 69 in Utah was renumbered to State Route 38 in 1994. However, Interstate 69 has not been altered.[not in citation given] Sign theft was also a factor that led to the renumbering of U.S. Route 666 to U.S. Route 491 in 2003, with a majority of the US 666 signs stolen following the announcement of the renumbering. In addition, County Route 666 in Morris County, New Jersey was renumbered to County Route 665 due to sign theft.
- Signs for mile marker 66.6 on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway were frequently stolen due to the Satanic associations with the number 666, prompting officials to consider changing the mile marker to 66.61.
- Signs for mile marker 420 along Interstate 70 in Colorado were often stolen due to the marijuana reference, probably especially because of its legalization of marijuana, leading the Colorado Department of Transportation to change the mile marker to 419.99. The states of Washington and Idaho have also since begun implementing the same solution in response to incidents of "mile 420" sign theft. Idaho replaced mile marker 420 along U.S. Route 95 with 419.9.
- Richard Bong State Recreation Area, a state park in Wisconsin, also suffers from sign theft due to the association of the word "bong" with marijuana culture.
- U.S. Route 66 in the United States, the subject of a famous 1940s pop song, also sees frequent sign theft—signs are so often stolen that in some places it can be difficult to navigate without knowing the route; furthermore, US 66 signage has not been maintained since the route was decommissioned from the U.S. Highway System in 1985.
- Often in the United States and Canada, the sign for streets called "High St." are stolen, also for its connection to marijuana culture. In an episode of the TV series That '70s Show, several of the characters attempt to steal a High St. sign to give to Steven Hyde for his birthday. This is less common in the United Kingdom, as the term "high street" is a general term for a town's main shopping district, equivalent to Main Street in North America.
- Ragged Ass Road in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada saw such frequent sign thefts that the city welded the sign to the post and began to sell replica street signs.
- Similarly, in the southernmost urbanized portion of Anchorage, Alaska, near the Seward Highway, a neighborhood street was called Jackass Lane. The sign at its intersection with Huffman Road, a major thoroughfare in Anchorage, was stolen so frequently during the 1970s and 1980s that the city government renamed the street to Silver Fox Lane.
- Signs leading to Bolinas, California were often stolen or wrongly placed by its reclusive residents as a means to make it difficult for tourists to locate the beachside town.
- The signs on Abbey Road in London, England were often stolen by Beatles fans until the city council mounted them on buildings.
- The entry sign in Intercourse, Pennsylvania has been stolen or vandalized on more than one occasion.
- Street signs on Butt Hole Road in England were stolen over time, because of the use of butt hole as a slang term for "anus". The street was eventually renamed to Archers Way in 2009.
- After frequent thefts of its welcome sign at the town boundary, the Austrian village of Fucking installed theft-resistant signs in 2005.
- The village of Shitterton in the United Kingdom saw its welcome sign stolen so often that in 2007 the local council stopped replacing it. The village's residents eventually contributed funds to buy a one-and-a-half-tonne stone slab with the town's name engraved on it as a permanent replacement.
- All the signs of the Dutch village Maaskantje were stolen since the New Kids comedy sketch show on Comedy Central (which is situated in the village) became popular (both in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany). The municipality of Maaskantje decided not to replace the stolen signs.
- In the early 1990s, during the popularity of the movie Batman Returns, many signs that said "Bat Cave Fire District" were stolen around the town of Bat Cave, North Carolina. So many signs were taken that the local volunteer fire department stopped putting them back up.
- The sign for Blue Jay Way is said to be the most-stolen street sign in Los Angeles, because of its association with the Beatles song written by George Harrison. The city eventually gave up on a metal sign and painted the street's name on the curb.
- Most street signs in West Hartford, Connecticut are mounted on low signposts; the sign for Stoner Drive, however, is mounted high on a utility pole behind a guardrail.
- The sign "Grovare 6", pointing to the small village Grovare in Sweden, 6 km from the sign, was often stolen. "Grovare" means "rougher" in Swedish with slightly wrong grammar, and the number 6 is spelt sex, same spelling and pronunciation as a word borrowed from English. The new sign says "Grovare 5", even if it is still 6 km.
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- Los Angeles Times, 1984
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