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A ‘libertarian’ approach to road traffic?

In the Dutch town of Drachten, they have removed nearly all the traffic lights in a bold experiment that seems to be paying off. There was typically one road death every three years in Drachten but there have been none whatsoever since the traffic light removal began seven years ago.:

“We want small accidents, in order to prevent serious ones in which people get hurt,” he said yesterday. “It works well because it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want. But it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk.

It is also nice to see the correct message from such examples starting to sink into a few brains in the mainstream media.

Meanwhile back in Britain

15 comments to A ‘libertarian’ approach to road traffic?

  • A town that previously suffered three road deaths a year

    A slight difference between your figures and those in the telegraph’s

  • Not sure I follow. The original article wrote:

    There used to be a road death every three years but there have been none since the traffic light removal started seven years ago.

    I wrote:

    There was typically one road death every three years in Drachten

    … which would seem to be the same thing unless I am having a ‘senior moment’ (always possible considering I am rather heavily medicated with antibiotics and painkillers just now)… perhaps you mean the Telegraph got it wrong and you have different figures from elsewhere and just neglected to provide a link?

  • I have two possible responses to this. Either:

    That would never work in China, it presumes that most of the drivers are rational most of the time, which doesn’t apply here.

    — or —

    China’s already got that system in essence, since nobody pays any damn attention to the signs and lights anyhow. And their road death stats are not pretty.

    Take your pick.

  • ah, it seems the two telegraph articles contradict each other

  • ian

    You read it here first…

    Seriously however, these ideas really need to be tested properly in this country. I have been involved in some attempts to do so, but these met with almost universal resistance from local councillors and highway engineers.

    It is the Health and Safety/I’ll get sued culture again. Road engineers in particular will tell you that they need all these signs because of the regulations. They don’t -as this Lords decision makes clear.

    Almost every road sign on our streets is not required by law. The only restriction is that if they are used they have to be used in a prescribed form and size.

  • pete

    My local free paper has the same main story nearly every week – the inability of the council to provide free parking for every single car user at exactly the time each car user needs it, and no more than a couple of yards from where the car user wants to visit. I wrote in suggesting a free for all, no wardens, no yellow lines, the lot. The replies to my letter suggested I was an idiot, but perhaps I was just ahead of my time. It’ll never catch on in the UK though, as this approach would require fewer council staff and much less administration.

  • An anecdote about the same town – a british traffic planner I met, who visited the area was invited to walk across one of these junctions with eyes closed. He claims he did and survived unscathed as drivers simply worked there way around him…

    Hans Monderman (the person responsible) also claimed that for some junctions the number of vehicles passing through actually increased despite the removal of all controls.

    In the UK our approach seems to be the Magic Roundabout in Swindon, which to be fair works, although you could build a new village on the land released by adopting Monderman’s approach!

  • Gordon Comstock

    For more on the libertarian approach to traffic control


    Perhaps you can’t protect idiots from themselves, but I find the casualties along the way rather unsettling.

  • zmollusc

    Since the queue of traffic at a junction with inoperative traffic lights is invariably shorter than one at the same junction when the traffic lights are working properly, how would one replace the pollution and wasted man-hours of traffic lights? My suggestion would be mandatory bonfires of used car tyres at all junctions where traffic lights have been removed.

  • When I was in India this summer, there were also very few traffic lights (which most people considered suggestions), and traffic seemed utterly chaotic and scary, yet it worked. People were careful not to crash into each other because they have every incentive not to.

  • MG

    This approach worked a treat in a small suburb near my old office in Germany. In other towns with regular stop- or give-way signs I knew that I could ignore speed limits, drive full tilt and then brake only where indicated. The clever burghers in this signless suburb ensured, however, that I would approach each intersection at a crawl just in case some OTHER fool was flying into it at 100 kph.

    Don’t know the stats for wrecks and casualties but the incentives for changed driving behaviour were unarguable.

  • Robert Sealey

    There is definitely food for thought here.

    Perhaps other things could be done away with, starting with the seatbelt law, something I always opposed on libertarian grounds. An unbelted driver is, after all, a hazard to no-one but himself.

    On a more practical level, other opponents of seatbelt laws have pointed out that restrained drivers are tempted to drive faster. This would seem to have been borne-out by events: witness the current near hysteria in the UK about speeding drivers. That modern cars are also equipped with airbags and numerous other devices only further increases the driver’s sense of invulerability, prompting him to drive even faster.

    There’s probably more than a grain of truth in the old joke about the one piece of safety equipment which would eliminate all traffic accidents is the one that will never be used: a foot long spike in the middle of the steering wheel, pointed straight at the driver’s chest.

  • Daveon

    Since the queue of traffic at a junction with inoperative traffic lights is invariably shorter than one at the same junction when the traffic lights are working properly,

    It is? Certainly not in my experience of them. A failure at one junction in Bath could and has gridlocked the city even worse than the appallingone way system.

    An unbelted driver is, after all, a hazard to no-one but himself.

    While there is hysteria about road deaths due to speeding etc… they are, IIRC, at pretty much an all time low in the UK.

    While there’s an NHS, wasting expensive tax payer money on rebuilding idiots without seat belts, or handling the insurance around it is a pain.

  • Daveon, I was just thinking about how expensive disabled people are: Social Security disability payments, Medicaid, perhaps other welfare bennies if needed.

    Air bags are making a bunch of expensive disabled people.

    (Previously, it was much more efficient–they just died.)

    If someone wants to drive without a seatbelt, or go helmet free on a donorcycle, er, motorcycle, sure, why not, as long as s/he has purchased the requisite insurance so as not to be a burden on the rest of us?

  • Paul Marks

    It is up to the owner of the roads, in this case the government (although I do not support government “free” roads anyway, or government toll roads come to that – if transport were left to civil society there would be a better mix of road and other forms of transport).

    However, I agree that lots of signs and lights (and other such) both confuse people and give them a false sense of security (as in so many things were people are taught to “follow the rules” rather than act sensibly) and so increase accidents.