catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Traffic de-regulation

with 12 comments

I’ve read about this kind of traffic de-control a couple of times, all in glowing terms. I find believable claims that removing traditional road devices (in some cases all signs, road paint and even curbs) can improve safety, simply because what results is a melee that moves at less than 15 km/hour. If you’ve ever driven in a town in Italy you will know what I mean. Initially it is quite terrifying & you cannot understand why there aren’t dozens of accidents a day. In fact, there probably are, but many wouldn’t even result in a dent, and it really is quite safe.

What I’d like to see is some more convincing evidence that de-control also improves traffic flows. It may be true, but it is not intuitive, at least given my subjective experience.

Anyway, these quotes (from the UK Telegraph) may delight some.

“Most traffic lights should be torn up as they make roads less safe, one of Europe’s leading road engineers said yesterday.

“Hans Monderman, a traffic planner involved in a Brussels-backed project known as Shared Space, said that taking lights away helped motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to co-exist more happily and safely.

“Residents of the northern Dutch town of Drachten have already been used as guinea-pigs in an experiment which has seen nearly all the traffic lights stripped from their streets.

“Only three of the 15 sets in the town of 50,000 remain and they will be gone within a couple of years…

“There used to be a road death every three years but there have been none since the traffic light removal started seven years ago…

“[Monderman said] ‘It works well because it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want. But it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk.

‘“We only want traffic lights where they are useful and I haven’t found anywhere where they are useful yet.’

“Mr Monderman, 61, compared his philosophy of motoring to an ice rink. ‘Skaters work out things for themselves and it works wonderfully well. I am not an anarchist, but I don’t like rules which are ineffective…’”

Written by Admin

November 18, 2006 at 12:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

12 Responses

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  1. It seems like an inane libertarian policy prescription. Why stop at traffic lights? Don’t deny individual ‘right of choice’ at all. Let individuals decide which side of the road they wish to drive on, abolish speed limits and parking policies.


    November 18, 2006 at 1:53 am

  2. ‘Let individuals decide which side of the road they wish to drive on, abolish speed limits and parking policies.’

    Sounds like Malaysia 🙂

    Sinclair Davidson

    November 18, 2006 at 10:13 am

  3. And Vietnam where the few traffic lights around were ignored. But remarkably few crashes as drivers took responsibility for not running into anyone, as opposed to our, more rule based and therefore apparently belligerent approach.


    November 18, 2006 at 10:20 am

  4. I’d like to see some evidence to support this, apart from one mid-size town. Australia has some of the most nanny-state traffic regulations in the world, and one of the lowest road tolls as well, at 8 deaths per billion km travelled. Italy comes further down the list at 10.9. You can find the details here.
    Note that this is an OECD-based study, so there are no real details from many of the developing countries where pure chaos reigns, but which I imagine have unacceptably high road tolls.

    Of course, there’s a lot more to the debate – driver training, speed limits, road quality and vehicle safety. But the argument that safer conditions will result when people are forced to look out for more risks sounds suspiciously familiar to the arguments from the 1970s that having a few drinks in your system forced you to be more cautious on the roads.


    November 18, 2006 at 10:32 am

  5. Let me clarify that last point. I accept the fact that greater risks will encourage more cautious behaviour. I’m from Canberra, with its myriad of 6-lane roads with no-one on them, and the standard of driving compared to jam-packed Sydney is atrocious. But it doesn’t follow that the increased caution outweighs the increased risk.


    November 18, 2006 at 10:55 am

  6. I’ve long suspected that very high levels of safety can lull people into a false sense of security, with the consequence that some people take more risks. I’d need to see this applied to a larger area, though. There may be reasons why it works in medium sized towns.


    November 18, 2006 at 1:14 pm

  7. Most regulations like this are sought by insurance companies.

    The law that when you have a bingle involving damage over $x you have to call the cops: the result of insurance company lobbying. Removing trained police from maintaining the peace to being clerks for private insurers.

    Can’t smoke on aeroplanes: airline lobbying of government, brought on by insurance ultimatums on said airlines.

    Rage on libertarians, but keep in mind 1) people value lives over economic efficiency, if only for sentimental reasons, and 2) insurance companies don’t cover private vehicle accidents in [insert bingle-happy third world country here] like they do in heavily-regulated, fault-seeking Australia.

    [insert ad hominem abuse from JC and GMB below]

    Andrew Elder

    November 20, 2006 at 2:49 pm

  8. With any luck, technology will progress rapidly enough that we can automate a lot of traffic control, with higher speeds and efficiency as well greater safety.


    November 20, 2006 at 3:22 pm

  9. We already have it, fats. My car has dynamic cruise control.


    November 20, 2006 at 3:42 pm

  10. Thi si so funny. While Andy is tlaking about rules etc. The Euros are gtting rid of theirs see above link.

    this time it’s not the the big bad libertarians proposing this.


    November 20, 2006 at 3:50 pm

  11. The linked article is great. 648 signs? Crazy. I love it when people are prepared to experiment with radical ideas. And that it’s the straight-laced Germans is a surprise, too. Not too sure about getting rid of footpaths, though.


    November 20, 2006 at 4:02 pm

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