Are The Roads Safer Without Any Traffic Signals And Lane Markers?

from the controlled-anarchy dept

There is a school of thought that suggests making things more dangerous is actually safer – since the more obviously dangerous a situation is, the more careful people will be. In some sense, this is part of the theory behind parts of open source philosophy: if the source is open, security is likely to be tighter, since everyone knows that the source is available to be combed through for vulnerabilities. That is, by making something less secure in some sense, it can create a situation where it’s actually a lot more secure. Apparently, a growing group of people are applying that concept to traffic engineering. The thinking is that the more chaos there is in the road, the more careful drivers are, and the less likely an accident occurs. Urban planners and traffic engineers are recommending removing traffic lights and stop signs, taking away lane markings, getting rid of crosswalks and bike lanes – and just letting everyone share the road however they feel appropriate. In areas where it’s been implemented (whether officially or by default – as in some developing nations), there are plenty of stories about how, despite the chaos, the roads actually appear to be much safer. Part of this is that people end up driving slower – because they know that they may share the road with others. Merging and cutting in are less of a problem, because it’s easier to make eye contact with other drivers (who are paying more attention and driving slower) and while the overall speed that the roads are designed to encourage may be slower, the lack of any congestion actually makes traveling through the areas faster. The focus, clearly, is on urban areas and not highways and such. Obviously, not everyone agrees with these theories – despite the evidence that’s out there. People in the US are especially horrified by the idea – especially in areas where traditional “traffic calming” is a big deal. They argue (somewhat persuasively) that US culture really couldn’t handle such a thing – since we pride ourselves on our individuality and our ability to express ourselves often via our cars and how we drive. That makes some sense, but the more I thought about the article, the more something I’ve been pointing out for years made sense to me. Driving in Manhattan has a terrible reputation. People talk about how it’s pure chaos. Red lights are “optional,” lanes mean absolutely nothing, and people and bicycles wander in and out of the streets everywhere. However, personally, I enjoy driving in Manhattan. Once you’re in the right mindset, the chaos of driving there makes perfect sense, and it’s almost easy. I’ll admit I’m much more vigilant, but it’s because I realize the rules are different. Meanwhile, here in California, driving is a different sort of adventure. Everywhere I drive, it seems like half the people on the road aren’t paying attention. In NY, if someone cuts you off with an inch to spare, it’s because they know they’re cutting you off with an inch to spare. It may seem dangerous, but people are aware of what’s happening. In California, if someone cuts you off with an inch to spare, it’s because they couldn’t be bothered to look or to realize that a car approaching in the next lane may be going much faster. In a situation where people naturally assume things are safer because the “chaos” is removed, perhaps things are actually made worse.

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Comments on “Are The Roads Safer Without Any Traffic Signals And Lane Markers?”

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Andreas Dorn (user link) says:

Roads without traffic lights

For a practical example, come and visit any major city in Asia. There are not that many traffic lights, and car lanes are not always clearly visible, or bigger than the ones you find in Europe. What happens?

Cars speed, and speed and speed. Pedestrians are secondary and have to take care before they cross the road. Speeding even in residential areas. On bigger roads, cars are trailing each other and a distance of 1 meter is a lot, even when you drive fast. If you leave more space for safety, someone is bound to cut in. Lanes that are made for one car, are made into a two or three car lane.

So my comment? Leave the traffic lights where they are. People are used to it, and they will get used to speeding and more careless driving when traffic lights are gone. Just a comment.

thecaptain says:

No Subject Given

This probably wouldn’t work. We’ve already got chaos here and the accident rate hasn’t lowered ๐Ÿ™‚

I mean in my city, traffic laws are merely a suggestion at this point and bad drivers abound. Walking anywhere within 15 feet of an intersection is risking life and limb and traffic ticket revenue is at an all time low, drunk driving offenses (recidivists) are at an all time high and people don’t even get out of the way of (and at times even viciously cut off) emergency vehicles.

I’ve stopped walking and taking the bus to work simply to protect myself…I have better survival chances armored in a car than I do on the sidewalk (which I’ve actually seen cars drive on to get maybe two cars ahead in a traffic jam…sigh)

AMetamorphosis says:

Re: Horrified American

Yes Mike,

I am horrified ( and an American ) @ the thought of no rules driving. As it stands now, our police don’t patrol the roads and people regularly go 80 – 90 miles an hour on the freeways, turn signals are options & most drivers put more faith in their brakes then they do in God. As much as I despise government intervention, I do not want to see Mad Max driving ( any worse than we already have it ) here in the states.

phoenix says:

deeper debate needed

This is an extremely interesting topic. I doubt there is a direct link between “road freedom” and “road compassion” but there may be a more complex relationship involving other variables. It is these other variables that should be examined in order to increase “road compassion” (one of the major factors is what name for it would sound less silly :-). I think there is some serious potential for saving lives and property in such research…

Beck says:

We have This in the Snowbelt

This happens when I’m driving on the freeway during a snowstorm. You can’t see where the lanes are, so everyone just goes with the flow, slowing down a bit and driving where it seems safe, relative to the other cars around you. It works out OK at night when traffic is light, but during the day all it takes is one moron to screw everything up and bring traffic to a standstill.

Anonymous Coward says:

I've seen this work

after natural disasters (usually ice storms and hurricanes) where all the power is out and none of the signals work. But that’s only for a day or two, so the drivers never get comfortable enough to get lazy or brave– plus, then there are fewer people on the road and most people don’t have to go to work because the power is out, so everyone is laid back.
What makes me think it won’t work is that my best friend was killed by a motorcycle on a busy street in Indonesia (he was in a pedicab), and everything I’ve heard about travel suggests that transportation is the number one killer of tourists.

Rootman says:

What a hoot!

I live only 2 miles from work. I’d love to walk or bicycle to work but can’t. Speeders and stoopid (sic) drivers would take me out in less than a week – and I live in a rural area! So I am forced

A stretch of street I travel on to go home is exceptionally wide and unstriped. It goes up a slight incline and there are bushes on the drivers (right in US) of the lane, nothing overhanging the road just big and, well, bushy. I am constantly amazed at how many drivers drift over to the far left, almost to the curb. I’ve followed more than one person who had to make an panic movement back into the right lane as oncoming cars pop over the hill.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What a hoot!

It really depends on the culture in question.

In Hong Kong, for example, road rules are “optional”. In Toronto, pedestrians will take the right of way whether they have it or not – they’ll simply walk in front of your car, daring you to hit them. San Francicso? Different again.

I don’t see it working all over, for every culture.

eeyore says:


Remember when Montana didn’t have a posted daytime speed limit on interstates? People literally drove a hundred miles an hour. The signs said to drive a “reasonable and prudent” speed. I was driving 90 and people blew by me like I was going backwards. Speed limits are like speed bumps: take them out and nobody will slow down anymore.

Redchrome says:

Re: montana

But was there an increase in accidents/problems when people were going 90MPH?
If so, was the problem that people were going 90MPH when it wasn’t a “reasonable and prudent” thing to do?
If speed limits weren’t set so arbitrarily low, the police might spend more time going after genuine problem drivers (genuine unsafe behavior, not just being outside certain arbitrary bounds); instead of people who were just driving fast. Unfortunately, speed traps are a major source of revenue for some departments; so there’s little chance that the laws will be changed soon.

Doug McCray says:

Removal of Traffic Controls

NJ has circles. Over the years, as traffic increased, NJDOT tried several ideas to make circles (rotary, round-about) easier to negotiate.

Lane lines around the circle, those entering have ROW, those in circle have ROW, etc.

They basically have ended up with a yield entering and no other markings in the circle at all. I have driven all of these as they made changes, and the ‘no lines’ works best.

Alex says:

People not Laws should be fixed

People need to be more careful. Good drivers are good at what they do, reckless drivers should have their licenses removed permanently. Even $500 speeding tickets wont keep people from speeding. But if their license was suspended for 6 months after speeding once, a year for the second offense and taken away after speeding three times, people would take it seriously.

Anonymous Coward says:

From some of the comments it seems some people are assuming that this style is chaos, it’s not from my understanding you still have to indicate and not speed etc, the change is less markings and sign/traffic lights, this FORCES all travellers on roads to be more vigilant and that appears to be the theory behind it, instead of pedestrians assuming they have right of way, they have to watch where they are going like other road users, the amount of times I’ve only just avoided an accident in the nick of time when a pedestrian or cyclist has entered a road without looking is ridiculous, this system is designed to prevent that.

Mike says:

Have to be cold to prove it

This is a great theory, and I honestly think that given enough time, everyone would get the message. The problem is the transition period, when some jerks still haven’t gotten the message, and they broadside a bus full of nuns. Is any politician willing to say “yeah, but in the long term, the benefits will be worth it. It was worth a bus full of nuns.”

Of couse not, even if the end result really WAS worth it.

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