At Least with Traffic, Fewer Rules Make for Better Behavior

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Officials
in Drachten, Holland, wanted to reduce accidents and injuries on
the town’s roads, so they turned to a traffic engineer with an unusual
idea: eliminate
rules
. Hans Monderman believes that people are more careful
when they are subject to fewer commandments and less direction.
So he
removed road signs, traffic lights and even markings. The so-far
positive results suggest that better results may well come from
letting people make ad hoc arrangements on the spot than from subjecting
them to top-down control.


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Part of the
problem is that regulations seem to create a false sense of security
– and entitlement. A recent British study found that drivers
actually give bicyclists less room
when cycle lanes are
explicitly marked on the road. Leaving the road unmarked creates
greater perceived danger and forces drivers to make their own arrangements
– generally creating a safer situation for bicyclists. The
same dynamic, Monderman claims, prevails in all traffic situations.
Leave drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to their own devices, and
they come to better arrangements than any that can be forced on
them.

So far, the
data seems to support Monderman’s theory. At least one report
(PDF) on Drachten’s traffic experiment found a significant drop
in accidents and injuries after traffic signals were removed at
a busy intersection – from between four and ten a year before
the change to one per year thereafter. Traffic also began to move
faster through the intersection even as it became safer. "On
the busiest streets average times to cross the intersection have
fallen from 50 seconds to about 30 seconds."

Read
the rest of the article

September
22, 2009

JD
Tuccille [send him mail] is
an Arizona-based writer and political analyst.

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