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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4575/signs-signs-everywhere-a-signs/

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a’ Signs

January 17, 2006 by

This interesting news clip (BBC?) draws attention to the newest trend in traffic regulation: eliminating all signs and even clear distinctions between roads and sidewalks. The point is to address the perverse incentives associated with imposed “safety”: the safer we believe we are as drivers and pedestrians, the more recklessly we behave. I find this experiment interesting because it is unconventional, taps into a counter-intuitive idea, represents a welcome turn away from the usual statist method of command and control, and suggests the type of experimentation you might see under a purely private system. (Here is a WIRED article on the trend)


Michael A. Clem January 17, 2006 at 1:32 pm

Yes, a very interesting idea, but as far as I can tell, it’s simply intended to give governments better ideas about making roads. In what way can libertarians take this and tell local governments to get out of the road business?

jeffrey January 17, 2006 at 1:48 pm

Well, Michael, no, that’s not the idea (you knew I would say that). It is, as I said, to draw attention to possible innovations that might take place under a market setting, particularly ones that seem contrary to coercion-only character of the state.

Let’s say there was a new way to put out house fires that involved pushing only one button, and some government somewhere employed it effectively but US fire departments persisted in drenching the house with water and chopping down doors with axes. It might be a good idea to take notice. To observe the problem with the conventional statist approach is not to give advice to governments but illustrate the unwillingess of governments to change and improve. (Did I really have to write all that?)

jeffrey January 17, 2006 at 1:49 pm

Also, it is kind of interesting.

Jon Roth January 17, 2006 at 2:55 pm

Ok, I get the concept. To extend it further, if you mandated that every car had a pointy spear mounted to the wheel, people would probably driver slower and much more cautiously.

I don’t necessarily have anything against the no sign/no curb ideas. The lines, however, are another story. I have astigmatism. It’s a pretty common eye condition that, amongst other things, makes it hard to see at night and/or raining. I need the bold white lines and little reflectors in the middle of the road otherwise I’m effectively blind.

I’m all for a free market, but since we don’t have one, keep the lines. Otherwise you might find my car in yours.

Michael A. Clem January 17, 2006 at 3:09 pm

My point is that if the idea gains acceptance, governments all over the place will force this idea upon us. That it seems to be a better idea may mean that it would be an improvement, but who knows if there might not be some other unintended consequence that hasn’t been spotted yet, or that they’ll simply get it wrong somehow, or just use the idea where it wouldn’t be appropriate (industrial parks?)? I can see the communitarians running with this, especially in dealing with urban sprawl.

I can see the argument you’re trying to make, I’ve echoed it, even, but I can’t see this as a good way to make it.

jeffrey January 17, 2006 at 3:22 pm

One possible bad effect of this is only hinted at in the video: cars must give right of way to bikers and peds. Now, you can see that a certain political subgroup out there would just love this idea, namely those people who hate drivers and love to make life more miserable day by day. This would be a very bad idea indeed, and amount to the coercion of which you speak.

Sione January 17, 2006 at 4:53 pm

Love it! Now I get to chase those morons I don’t like onto the “footpath” and beyond without causing expensive damange to the suspension of my car! This’ll teach respect!



david January 18, 2006 at 2:25 am

Jeffrey said: ‘the safer we believe we are as drivers and pedestrians, the more recklessly we behave. I find this experiment interesting because it is unconventional, taps into a counter-intuitive idea,….’

this exact phenomenon was described by Edward Tenner in his very entertaining book ‘Why things bite back’ some 5 years ago. He devoted quite a lot of space to research done on the effect of protective clothing in contact sports, where it was fouind that, surprise surprise, the addition of protective clothing did NOT result in a lower rate of injury. Indeed, if memory serves me, protective clothing actually increased the severity of injuries! This is the same phenomenon at work as the traffic case you describe:

each sportsman has his own internal injury risk tolerance threshold, and moderates his behaviour according to that tolerance, but the addition of protective clothing merely raises that threshold leading him to take further risks. So the ‘intended’ result of harm reduction is neutralised and the stakes raised. Of course, wherever this response occurs to any sort of regulation, the bureaucratic ‘regulatory’ response is invariably further regulation.

Paul D January 18, 2006 at 8:19 am

Perhaps if there’s an economic moral to be gleaned here, it’s that you can build a safe road without signs and rules all over the place, just by designing it better. That’s what Hans Monderman does. The state, however, is used to solving its problems not by understanding the issues, but simply by issuing more rules that coerce people to behave this way and that way — and it’s usually futile.

If our road systems were privately owned again, Mr. Monderman would probably be the most in-demand road engineer in the world.

sucheta July 31, 2009 at 4:29 am

Nice Blog.

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