Three Seconds

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 12:49 PM EST

THREE SECONDS....Megan McArdle suggests that you be very, very careful if you're driving in Virginia:

I don't know about other parts of the country, but around here governments are partially dealing with their revenue shortfall by upping their traffic enforcement to outrageously persnickety levels; my sister got a ticket the other day for stopping at a stop sign for three seconds instead of the apparently requisite five. There were no other cars around — except for the cop who handed her a gigantic ticket.

Five seconds? Seriously?

For that matter, where did this whole "three seconds at a stop sign" meme come from in the first place? As near as I can tell, both the Virginia and California vehicle codes require only a "complete stop," with no mention at all of having to wait a few seconds before you continue through the intersection. The law firm of Lawrynowicz and Associates agrees fervently ("Many people receive unfair and unjust Stop Sign tickets when they have obeyed the law completely. Why pay an unfair ticket and have your insurance rates raise when you can fight it and keep your record clean?") Is this whole thing a myth? A rule of thumb drilled into teenager by drivers ed teachers and never forgotten? Buried somewhere in the vehicle code where I couldn't find it? What's the deal?