Being a libertarian means you’re often the entertainment at cocktail parties. ‘Let’s have Jim tell us why there should be no traffic lights! It’ll be a riot!’
Now comes word that seven cities and regions in Europe are doing away with traffic lights and signs — indeed with most traffic regulations.
“The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We’re losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior,” says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project’s co‐founders. “The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people’s sense of personal responsibility dwindles.”
Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such exaggerated regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What’s more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow.
“Unsafe is safe”
The result is that drivers find themselves enclosed by a corset of prescriptions, so that they develop a kind of tunnel vision: They’re constantly in search of their own advantage, and their good manners go out the window.
The new traffic model’s advocates believe the only way out of this vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves.
I first read about the weakness of traffic regulation in Regulation magazine and was reminded of the concept by a recent post on TechDirt which seems to have stirred some passion given the 100+ comments.
I’m entirely in favor of a deregulated, human‐oriented traffic system — though I am slightly concerned about it diminishing my entertainment value at cocktail parties.