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October 18, 2007



It never ceases to amaze me how well humans tend to work things out when they aren't overburdened by excessive regulation (modulo actual bad guys). Consider, as another example, this video of a traffic exchange in India: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBB_X8v7tSA


I can’t decide if that’s alarming or very Zen.


In theory, it could be either.
In practice, it's very human.

At least when professional agitators don't get in the way. Inbound data suggests that red light cameras increase intersection collisions. You might also want to check out this "European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs" article by Matthias Schulz at Der Speigel: http://tinyurl.com/wppac


I can agree with this, from the Schulz article, quoting Hans Monderman: "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles." It also does not surprise me that the Germans have managed to come up with 648 traffic symbols (no thanks, learning as many Chinese characters would be much more useful). But this also sticks out: "About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers." I would guess that's because the other 30% are useful. After all, they were invented for a reason. I don't think it takes a "professional agitator" to suggest that traffic will flow more smoothly if rules are imposed. It only takes people who want the traffic to go faster and/or more safely. The trick is finding the optimum.

Consider how bad the problem of traffic fatalities has gotten in India. Here's something from a press release from Purdue University describing the impressions of a team of engineers sent to India by the World Bank--it's especially interesting for the way it shows how poor engineering (bad rules) combined with disdain for rules puts people at risk:
"Driving is perilous on some highways," Sinha said.

An example is the constant threat of head-on collisions due to motorists driving the wrong direction on highways. One reason for the driving tactic is that medians in divided highways do not allow motorists to conveniently exit, forcing them to drive far out of their way before they can get off. To avoid the extra travel, motorists simply drive on the opposite side of the highway - into oncoming traffic - so that they can access exits. An easy solution would be more frequent breaks in medians to allow motorists to exit more conveniently. Better traffic enforcement also would cut down on dangerous driving, he said.

"Traffic fatalities in India are about three times that of those in the United States," Sinha said. "More than 100,000 people die on Indian roads each year, compared with about 40,000 in the United States, where traffic volume is many times greater than India's. On just one 221-kilometer section of a highway, there were 335 fatalities in one year, 250 serious injuries and 101 minor injuries, for a total of 700 traffic deaths and injuries. That's almost absurdly high."

And here's an interesting figure from a column by a guy named Gwynne Dyer: "Around the world, about 1.2 million people are killed in road accidents each year. An astounding 85 per cent of those deaths happen in developing countries, although they own less than a fifth of the world's vehicle fleet."



Not that I'd vouch for anything this guy Dyer writes, now that I've peered through his archive. This column struck me as ludicrous:


In regard to the British sailors and Marines taken prison by the Iranians last March, he was quite satisfied with how they handled themselves. He thinks the US rules of engagement would have been too assertive, and assumes that had the British refused to surrender, the Iranians would have killed the 15 of them, or something like that. It's snidely polemical. I'm convinced the rest of his archive will be a waste of my time.


Removing superfluous traffic controls does not imply that rules as a whole have been eliminated. The engineer considers the available data regarding competing techniques and technologies and chooses the ones that do the best job of solving the problems at hand. The professional agitator avoids or ignores the data in order to promote a false understanding of the situation in the name of acquiring moolah for some cause, such as the case of municipal politicians who see red-light cameras as a cash cow, even while the data says they increase risk.

In the 40 square block around where I live, almost all intersections have stop signs or yield signs. The traffic is light to non-existent. There is a default rule on the books that says that at an uncontrolled intersection, the vehicle to the right has the right of way. That is completely adequate for these situations. Yet the superabundance of redundant signage supports irresponsible drivers who somehow have come to the conclusion that just because they have the right of way in theory they don't have any responsibility for avoiding collisions in practice.

Yeah, tell it to your mortician.

(PS: Gwynne Dyer is a ding-a-ling.)

Stephen Schaunt

It is actually alarming David. It is one of the most unsafe places to be. It's like you're putting yourself in the boundary line of life and death. And the sad part is that young ones, who are unaware of the danger, can easily fall inside the track. I wish they would have the heart to step back and think of the lives at stake by staying at both sides of these railways.

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