Promoting Safe Driving

by Don Boudreaux on December 24, 2007

in Everyday Life

My George Mason University colleague Gordon Tullock famously remarked that the best way for government to reduce the number of traffic fatalities is for it to mandate that a sharp steel dagger be mounted on the steering column of each vehicle and pointed directly at each driver’s heart.  Forget about all other regulations and mandates; that dagger will ensure safe driving.

This town in Germany is using the same sound economic reasoning that inspired Gordon’s remark

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G December 24, 2007 at 11:37 am

I've often wondered how well this would work:

Repeal all traffic laws, and have no traffic enforcement for anything except offenses which could cause an imminent accident (excessive speeding in areas of low visibility and tailgating mainly). Remove insurance mandates for one's self, only keeping mandates for injured 3rd parties. Finally, use whatever monitoring devices are needed to hold people completely accountable for any accidents they cause.

Currently, the system of forcing everyone to buy insurance to cover their own person and vehicle (at least in Florida) creates some perverse incentives (i.e., the "someone else is paying" phenomenon).

Steve Horwitz December 24, 2007 at 1:13 pm

The question is how long this will work for. If the object is to "create confusion," that can't be a permanent solution. It will be interesting to see what order emerges from this little experiment in the evolution of norms.

True_Liberal December 24, 2007 at 8:41 pm

I once proposed that the door safety sensors on elevator doors be removed. It would stop one person from delaying a dozen others so his buddy could crowd in & chat; and Darwin would take care of the offenders.

Per Kurowski December 25, 2007 at 8:56 am

Once, in Hanoi, where literally ten thousands of motorcycles are coming at you anywhere you want to cross the street and there are no traffic lights in sight I was told that the only way was to look for a lower density moment, close your eyes and cross. And so I did. I am still writing but it was not a relaxing experience. To me it sounds like those days of taking a stroll in a German town are now over, though perhaps a German town was never meant for a tranquil stroll.

By the way any opinions on whether the experiment would work differently in Italy? I would say better! There they are probably much more experienced at a free for all!

Flash Gordon December 25, 2007 at 6:31 pm

The four-way stop sign intersections already in existence in the U.S. are a bit similar to this German experiment. The behavior of motorists at these intersections would probably be little different if the four stop signs were removed. In small town America there are intersections with no controls and few collisions.

A very dangerous thing is an intersection with a stop sign that is unwarranted by conditions. The result is usually very little compliance and an upsurge in accidents, some of which are bad.

BGC December 26, 2007 at 2:20 am

This looks to me like anti-automobile legislation, pretending to be pro-safety legislation. Probably it is inspired by environmental or 'green' political views.

We get a lot of this in the UK – indeed it is endemic. This kind of legislation is designed to make driving more of a hassle, lengthen journey times, and deter car usage – for example a single lane chicane is often inserted into the middle of a busy two-lane suburban road to create traffic jams, force drivers to wait and negotiate precedence, and generally to deter car usage.

But automobiles are a vital technology. It makes no sense to prevent automobiles fulfilling their social and individual function of rapid mass transportation and then hailing this as a safety breakthrough.

The logical conclusion of these pseudo-safety but actually anti-car policies will be a return to cars driving at 4 mph with a man waving a red flag walking in front…

Barak A. Pearlmutter December 27, 2007 at 6:46 am

The analogy you are making is not very apt.

What is really going on is the the government is GETTING OUT OF THE WAY so that people's normal sense of courtesy and sensibility can come to the fore. In order for this to occur, drivers need to be able to attend to what is happening in their environment, instead of where various lines are and what various signs say.

Another way of looking at it: people have a limited amount of attention. Should drivers be spending their limited attention on locating and reading and responding to signs and lines, or to locating and responding to pedestrians, bicycles, and other vehicles?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and this approach of GETTING OUT OF THE WAY and letting people drive reasonably has been enjoying great success.

Henri Hein December 27, 2007 at 2:38 pm

I'm with Barak. I have heard elsewhere that cooperative traffic measures, such as merges, are less accident-prone than strict ones, such as stop lights.

We should also give the town credit for trying a new approach where others failed. Even if the new design doesn't work quite as intended, there is value in the experiment. We will learn more about what works and what doesn't.

Where Bruce has a point is that the traffic is forcibly routed through down-town in the mistaken belief that an objective to traffic design should be to increase local commerce.

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