Cones and other traffic signs have become a fixture in the kitchens of university residence halls. Some are utilised as Christmas trees and drying racks, while others simply serve as reminders of fun evenings out. “When I was a first-year student living in halls, it was more rare for me to enter someone’s flat who did not have a road sign!” one law student thinks. Another recent law graduate said to Legal Cheek: “During my undergraduate degree, I stole a couple traffic cones. I realise this is completely meaningless, yet it was being done by a large number of individuals. I met one guy who brought home a whole stop sign after a particularly wild night out.”
That is not to say that stealing one will not get you in hot water.
Snatching a traffic cone off the roadway is a violation of section 1 of the 1968 Theft Act, a regulation that law students are undoubtedly all too familiar with from their criminal law courses. The clause criminalises theft when someone dishonestly appropriates another’s property with the goal of permanently depriving the other of it. The offence carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
Taking a piece of traffic equipment off the street does fit the basic property offence model (though Dan Bunting, a barrister at 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings, points out to Legal Cheek that there may be an issue with “intention to permanently deprive,” given that the majority of people steal traffic cones while intoxicated). However, the true issue is this: Can the cops be bothered to enforce it? Daniel Sternberg of Foundry Chambers tells Legal Cheek that he has never been involved in a traffic cone theft case; a Google search yields few precedent.
This is for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the suits are not economically viable; each cone costs less than £10, and as one law student observes: “Numerous traffic cones will vanish in any event… There are many worse things for people to do [than steal cones].”
However, the gravity of the theft is sometimes determined not by the monetary value of the goods but by the potential consequences of the crime.
You’re a fucking pillock if you’re in second year and still stealing traffic cones on a night out.
Section 22A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 makes it criminal to interfere with traffic equipment, including traffic cones, when doing so would be clear to a reasonable person to be harmful (think cones alerting drivers to pot holes and other potential dangers).
The bar for responsibility is lowered significantly since the offence does not have to result in harm or damage to be committed. Prosecutions for this violation, which carries a maximum punishment of seven years in jail, include DPP v D, in which two individuals were charged with illegally placing a huge road sign on a dual highway.
Additionally, there is the possibility of harm to pupils. Intoxicated individuals should avoid congregating in the centre of a road. And after you acquire the equipment, what are your plans for it? One student, Tom Callaway, 18, died last year after being dared by his pals to place a traffic cone on a horse and soldier statue in Exeter.
And, of course, even if you escape the robbery physically unscathed, being apprehended and having any type of criminal record would almost certainly have a bad effect on your training contract and pupillage prospects.
As a result, the risks associated with stealing traffic cones are potentially severe, even if they are little and improbable. This is sufficient to discourage some law students from cone-nabbing. According to one, ” “Several of my housemates have previously [appropriated street cones]. They were perpetually inebriated, which they thought amusing. As a law student, I, on the other hand, can only consider the negative consequences of taking them and other red flags. As a law student, I’ve developed a broader perspective on the hazards that seemingly little events might create.”
Whether you’re as considerate as our above-law student or not, perhaps it’s time to break the mould and move on from stealing traffic cones and road signs to something larger, better, and less life-threatening (or preferably nothing). Alternatives such as pint glasses and beer mats are popular. One law student believes that inflatables are frequently used during university dance nights to dress up otherwise uninteresting settings. Names were also given to little ducks, crowns, and masks. Significantly more alluring than possibly lifesaving traffic equipment.