If a traffic sign is obstructed (for example, due to being overgrown by kudzu or because a telephone pole was placed in front of it) to the point of unreadability, do you still need to obey it?

What if the sign is so obstructed that there is no longer any indication that the sign even exists?

  • 4
    AFAIK in Italy, quite idiotically, you have to obey a sign even if it's no longer there at all. How can you, they don't bother to explain.
    – o0'.
    Jun 6, 2015 at 9:45
  • 2
    As far as completely invisible: An officer can ticket you for it if they know there's supposed to be a sign there, and I've seen cases where the judge will find you guilty if they believe you knew there was supposed to be a sign there. -- If it's not completely invisible, and you can see part of it, it's hard to argue. Especially in cases like a stop sign - there are no other signs that are red and octagonal. You can't argue "well I didn't see the STOP text on it."
    – animuson
    Jun 6, 2015 at 15:58
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  • Although these are interesting questions from a legal point of view, in general it is better to obey traffic signs anyway. They are there after all for safety/efficiency of traffic. Not to annoy people. Jun 8, 2015 at 2:55
  • @CommuSoft, have you really never encountered a situation where you go "Oh, wait, I think that was a stop sign behind those trees"?
    – Mark
    Jun 8, 2015 at 5:16

2 Answers 2


No. The law would be void for vagueness.

Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391 (1926):

[T]he terms of a penal statute [...] must be sufficiently explicit to inform those who are subject to it what conduct on their part will render them liable to its penalties… and a statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law.

The example of the "well known but hidden stop sign" appears to allow for arbitrary prosecution and should also be void.


It depends, but you should do it, just to be safe.

Let's say you live in a town with one main road. The town council has decided that every road that has an intersection with this main road must have a stop sign placed on it. The idea catches on among the townspeople, and after the signs are placed accordingly, the accident rate goes down, and everyone is satisfied. Even out-of-towners catch to the pattern pretty quickly.

One day, you - a law-abiding citizen of the town - drive down a side street towards the main road. The stop sign is no longer visible because of all of the kudzu on it. It's nearly impossible to tell that there's anything there besides a lot of kudzu.

You ignore the stop sign and go out into the main road, in full sight of everyone, including a police officer. The officer charges you with a moving violation for not stopping at the stop sign. You argue against this, saying that the sign could not be seen.

The case - assuming you challenge the officer's decision - could rest on mistake of fact. Basically, if you had reasonable cause to not think that there was a stop sign there, the charges could be dropped, because there was nothing there alluding to the sign's existence. However, in this situation, such a defense would not be legitimate, because given how obvious and widely-known the policy is, there's no reason why you would think that a stop sign would not be there.

Each situation differs. A solid defense uses the concept of mistake of fact. If a sign was placed somewhere designating that cars have to slow down within that area (for some unclear reason), and the sign was not easily visible - or recognizable at all - then perhaps the defense could be used, because there would be no reason to think that there would be a sign there.

In short, it varies. The scenarios differ in each case, so there's no overarching policy.

  • 4
    Counterclaim: There is no reason to remember where signs are supposed to be as they are they are required by necessity to be visible so that someone who does not know they are there can react to them.
    – Joshua
    Sep 1, 2015 at 2:25
  • Anyway the police officer has authority to ticket you but then you have to defend yourself on court, which takes time and money. You will likely be discharged by mistake of fact Jan 8, 2018 at 13:11

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