Market Curiosity: Exploring Markets And Systems

October 21, 2011

Can fewer traffic rules save lives? Apparently, yes.

Filed under: Systems — Tags: , , — Jeff Fitzmyers @ 10:50 am

What happens when you remove all traffic signs?…Nieder-Erlenbach got rid of all traffic signs and traffic lights in the town center. It also erased marked crosswalks, leaving only one sign that says “common street” and calling for a reduced speed of 30 km/h… The only other rule: “Always give way to the person on the right.”

Thus Main Street turned into a “naked” square shared equally by bikes, pedestrians, cars, and trucks. With the change, Nieder-Erlenbach adopted a radical traffic-management philosophy gaining popularity in Europe. Pioneered by a Dutch engineer who thought towns were safer with fewer rules, “shared space” envisions open surfaces on which motorists and pedestrians can “negotiate” [feedback loop!] with one another by eye contact, other signals, and a greater consideration for one another…more than 100 shared-space schemes in the Netherlands.

European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs…There aren’t even any lines painted on the streets.

“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.”

…Germany has 648 valid traffic symbols. The inner cities are crowded with a colorful thicket of metal signs… Some 20 million traffic signs have already been set up all over the country.

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 [byproduct of force]

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…

It may sound like chaos, but it’s only the lesson drawn from one of the insights of traffic psychology: drivers will force the accelerator down ruthlessly only in situations where everything has been fully regulated. Where the situation is unclear, they’re forced to drive more carefully and cautiously [takes time to deal with feedback]…

Now traffic is regulated by only two rules in Drachten: “Yield to the right” and “Get in someone’s way and you’ll be towed.”

Strange as it may seem, the number of accidents has declined dramatically.


  • These successful changes are happening on local levels first.
  • These 2 examples have only 2 (two) rules each — and they are not even the same rules!! Is it the rules that make it work, or the correct overall initial conditions?
  • Fewer rules saves lives while making life more pleasant. Or is it making life nicer saves lives?? :-)

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