August 1, 2008

Towards Solving the Traffic Tragedy

In Distracting Miss Daisy John Staddon makes a strong argument for changes in the way traffic control is managed in the United States:

A more systematic effort to train drivers to ignore road conditions can hardly be imagined. By training drivers to drive according to the signs rather than their judgment in great conditions, the American system also subtly encourages them to rely on the signs rather than judgment in poor conditions, when merely following the signs would be dangerous. ....... When you’ve trained people to drive according to the signs, you need to keep adding more signs to tell them exactly when and in what fashion they need to adjust their behavior. Otherwise, drivers may see no reason why they should slow down on a curve in the rain.
Read the article for some excellent recommendations.

John makes an interesting analogy to the tragedy of the commons meme:

Economists and ecologists sometimes speak of the “tragedy of the commons”—the way rational individual actions can collectively reduce the common good when resources are limited. How this applies to traffic safety may not be obvious. It’s easy to understand that although it pays the selfish herdsman to add one more sheep to common grazing land, the result may be overgrazing, and less for everyone. But what is the limited resource, the commons, in the case of driving? It’s attention. Attending to a sign competes with attending to the road.
Attention is a key element when discussing traffic fatalities and injuries and I think John's suggestions may, if implemented, make a large contribution toward reducing these consequences of a failed national and local traffic policy: 40,000 deaths per year and no outrage?

However from a commons perspective attention does not exactly fit the meme.

John, apparently, drives on lonely country roads and in quiet neighborhoods.

Many of the rest of us spend a fair amount of time crawling along the real tragedy of the traffic commons:

Picture via

Via The Perfectly Rational Dog.

Posted by Steve on August 1, 2008
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