When I invited comment about BABY ON BOARD signs a few days ago, I managed to prove two things. First, a lot of people have very strong feelings about these ubiquitous in-the-back-window messages. Second, few of the feelings agree.
Let's divide feelings and feelers into three categories: Pro-B.O.B. signs, anti-B.O.B. signs and disinterested observers.
Users and proponents: Linda Hoover says her B.O.B. sign is there to warn fellow drivers that she is that rarity, a law-abiding driver. "The sign means, 'I'm not going to be Mario Andretti at a yellow light with kids aboard,' " Linda said.
Cheryl Singhal of Silver Spring says she would have loved a B.O.B. nine years ago when her son was newly born, because it would have warned other drivers of the possibility of "prolonged waits at stop signs and sudden maneuvers."
Charles (Smokey) Jones of Alexandria says his wife erected a B.O.B. in the back window "to try and stop tailgaters." However, says Smokey, the sign seems to have brought tailgaters even closer. "Maybe they're trying to see what the baby looks like!' " Father Jones surmises.
Edna Humphrey of Silver Spring has a reason for her B.O.B. that's hard to fault in a financial sense. "The pediatrician gave one to us, gratis," she said.
Cathy Buckley of Silver Spring admits that she leaves her B.O.B. sign on display when her 17- month-old is not in the car. But she justifies it this way: "It'd be awfully bothersome to try and get the suction cup to hold three or four times a day."
But why use the sign at all? Most users and proponents said they simply hope (and firmly believe) the signs make accidents less likely.
Paula J. Adkins of Woodbridge says she treats her B.O.B. as a "portable caution sign." Gail Perry of Northeast, who has a 4-month-old son and a B.O.B., says she drives "more carefully because of him, and I would want others to do so." Jill Lyon of Columbia, who has a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, says of her B.O.B.: "I don't want those two little lives in the back seat cut short suddenly."
Non-users and detractors: For eloquence, it would be hard to top Thomas P. Hannan of Northwest.
"I don't know if the drivers in question are bragging about their successful mating habits, or if they are sincerely paranoid that the general public is out to maim their offspring," Tom writes. "But I do know that the whole concept is most absurd. If there are, in fact, homicidal drivers out there who 'drive to kill,' then what makes these parents believe that the deranged operators are going to heed their warnings and ram somebody else?"
Mike Shaw of Columbia says many B.O.B. users think the sign is an excuse for them to drive unsafely. "I've seen B.O.B.-sporters driving well over 55 and turning around to check on the baby," Mike says.
Donna Barrett of Alexandria was among several readers who has seen B.O.B-bearing cars with children inside -- none of them seatbelted, all of them standing up on the back seat. Tim Kelly of Springfield has seen the same thing. He wryly suggests a new sign for such parents. It would read: BABY ON BOARD. REPORT MY POOR DRIVING TO MY SPOUSE.
Tod Butler of Kensington says B.O.B.s irritate him because "they seem to say, 'We're wonderful for having created this child,' and 'We care more than other parents.' "
Jerry Epstein of Takoma Park argues that this "parental pride" argument is similar to saying that "Imelda Marcos's closet shows 'shoe pride' . . . . Parents have always taken pride in showing off their babies. The modern Yuppie, however, has to brag to innocent bystanders . . . . "
Jan Cunningham of Gaithersburg makes a financial argument. "An unsafe driver probably won't improve his driving habits just because there's a baby in the next car," she notes. "So why waste money on a sign?"
"Do Not Print My Full Name" of Gaithersburg had this wise observation: "I have no intention of being any more careful around someone else's child than they promise to be around my teen-age daughter, who just got her license and her first car. If the parents of all those babies think they have something to worry about now, just wait."
Observers: Maj. Edgar (Whit) Duskin of Burke Center and Chuck Vinch of Alexandria pointed out that B.O.B.s aren't even a native American craze. Both men say they saw B.O.B.s all over Germany in the late 1970s.
Hilde Henry of Springfield calls the whole thing "a silly fad" that will "run its course in due time." She suggests helping it along that path with a new sign: WHO CARES WHO'S ON BOARD?
Last word goes to Dean Aden of Springfield, who writes: "If you care to start a 'Ban the Yellow Signs' campaign, count me in."
I would gladly start such a crusade, Dean. But the law enforcement folk already have. B.O.B.s are already illegal in Maryland, and are soon expected to become illegal in D.C. and Virginia, too.