Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Wonders of Road De-regulation

In response to the increasing number of traffic fatalities in this country during the year, the government has been considering the idea of raising the minimum driving age from 15 to 17, and putting in some other regulations concerning alcohol into practice.

I have a better idea. How about stripping NZ roads of most street signs, getting drivers to focus on the movements of drivers around them, rather than focusing on those signs?

This idea is called "Naked Streets", and has been tried with success in many Western countries, including the US, UK, the Netherlands and Sweden. In removing traffic signs, it successfully gets drivers to voluntarily cooperate with one another to ensure smooth traffic flow.

In those countries, the concept of shared space has been tried out alongside the "naked streets". Shared Space would work in downtown areas and suburban shopping areas where pedestrians are common sights, although for arterial routes the road does needs to be for cars to facilitate large-scale transportation. Some signs (for instance, signs signifying exits on motorways) would need to stay, but the majority (speed limits being the main example) would not.

Similarly, the give-way rules would still apply -but note that these are already used voluntarily by drivers to ensure smooth traffic flow anyway- as well as some traffic lights.

The effect of this would be to ensure that drivers are a lot more cooperative with one another one the road. Now isn't that the best way to ensure against large-scale traffic fatalities?


Owen McCaffrey said...

the main problem with the naked streets approach is that it would not save many lives at all.

How many traffic fatalities (out of the roughly 400 each year) occur on busy city streets and near shopping centres?

Most fatalities involve alcohol and speed and these people have very little regard for road signs.

Most fatal injuries occur at high speeds outside of city centres.

Callum said...

Owen (by any chance are you related to Peter McCaffrey, leader of ACT on Campus?):

Although I don't have the statistics for NZ urban area fatalities, the towns and cities where naked streets were introduced overseas have seen big drops in accidents. Case in point:

"Accident figures at one junction where traffic lights were removed have dropped from thirty-six in the four years prior to the introduction of the scheme to two in the two years following it."

"Since the zebra crossings and traffic signs were replaced with a spacious fountain, benches and other street furniture, the Skvallertorget square in Norrköping has experienced no accidents, mean traffic speeds have dropped from 21 to 16 km/h (13 to 10 mph) and liveability has increased."

"It is reported that, based on two years of 'before and after' monitoring, casualties fell from 71 in the period before the street was remodelled to 40 afterwards - a drop of 43.7%."

"In West Palm Beach, Florida planners are reported to have removed traffic signals and road markings and brought pedestrians into much closer contact with cars. The result has been slower traffic, fewer accidents, and shorter trip times."

(All these examples from the Wiki page on Shared Space that I posted.)

So. regardless of wherever the majority of crashes happen, naked streets would help to reduce the number of accidents, which would turn into a large number of lives saved over the course of a number of years.