Does your policy look something like this sign? This is a real sign that was posted near schools on Bogie Lake Road in White Lake, Michigan.

The speed limit is normally 45 on that street, except during these half hour periods on school days when the speed limit drops down to 25, except the first period which is only 26 minutes. The end result is that drivers need to almost stop in order to read the sign. Presumably, they also need to make sure their watch is precise because they can travel at 45 mph at 6:48 am, but need to slow down to at 6:49 am. They need a copy of the school calendar to determine if it’s a school day, and not merely a work day.

The sign became complex because of cost, the underlying regulations, and the surrounding environment. The complexity is there for a good reason. There are three schools on that stretch of road, a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school. As you might expect, each school has different pick up and drop off times, resulting in different times that drivers need to be aware of the extra traffic and danger of children in the area.

The size and style of the sign is strictly regulated, so the sign maker has limited flexibility.

Because of cost, the sign designer puts the burden on the driver. Another choice would have been a “school speed limit only when lights are flashing” sign. But that costs significantly more than the this sign. That shifts the burden to the municipality to pay the additional cost to put up an automated sign. By the way the cost is significant: $50,000.

The complicating factor is that three schools are clustered together. That is unusual and clearly the rules for signs were not designed to deal with that type of complexity.

I assume by the strict rules for school speed zones, they only apply during the drop-off and pick-up time for each school. That leaves a gap in the times. The hours could have been from 6:49 am to 9:07 am and 2:03 pm to 4:29 pm. Presumably, the sign maker thought that choice was unduly strict.

The sign is complex because the underlying rules are complex. (I’m sure you can think of your own policies that are complex because the underlying law is complex.)

Perhaps one of the goals of compliance should be to craft simpler policies out of the complex maelstrom of applicable laws. That will ultimately limit employees from taking actions that would be permitted by the underlying law. The trade off is a policy that’s simpler to understand. After all, if you can’t understand the policy or easily figure out if it applies to you, then compliance with the policy is only a matter of luck.

Thankfully, the sign was removed and replaced by a simpler sign.

View Larger Map