Out of Control Policy Blog

A New (Old) Approach to Traffic Control

Check out this interesting piece by Kenneth Todd in Cato's Regulation magazine that looks at traffic control through a libertarian lens:

    "The traffic control system we have today was put together in the early days of the automobile by public officials who knew little about regulating the new means of locomotion. They adopted traffic laws without prior research, on the basis of subjective opinion. No underlying philosophy saw to it that traffic regulation met its purpose: safe and expeditious travel at an economical cost to the road user and taxpayer, with the least inconvenience to anyone.

    Into traffic regulations crept misconceptions and contradictions that have killed innumerable people, cause massive traffic jams, waste innumerable hours of time and vast quantities of fuel, pollute the air, and lead to unjust decisions in civil accident litigation. The system violates basic legal, engineering, and safety principles, and billions of dollars are spent on high-tech computer equipment intended to overcome self-inflicted problems.

    . . . .

    The roots of the problem lie in the irreconcilable contradictions between the equal rights and responsibilities each individual has under common law and the unequal rights and responsibilities that the right-of-way rules dictate.

    Traffic laws should forbid acts that cause danger, obstruction and nuisances -- acts that the common law forbids already -- but nothing else. A return to a system based on common law principles will be the ultimate and only way to give the public a safe, efficient, and cost-effective service."

The article includes a review of the development of traffic control through the 20th century, as well as many ideas that might at first glance might appear counterintuitive, that is until you reflect a bit more on your own driving experiences.

    "Traffic signals cause rear-end collisions. They compress an hour's traffic into half an hour of green time and thereby halve all headways. They then make drivers go fast and keep close to the vehicle in front for fear of missing the green light, with their eyes up in the air rather than on the road. The combination of high speed, tailgating, diverted attention, and sudden stops causes rear-end crashes. The pedestrian's unshakeable faith in the traffic signal is entirely misplaced – as many get run down walking with the green light as get run down walking against red.

    Traffic signal control is so unsafe that the official Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices already in 1935 recommended the trial and use of less restrictive alternatives. The current Manual lists 12 alternatives to signal control to be considered, among them all-way stops and roundabouts.

    According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), all-way stop intersections have the best safety record, with half as many accidents as those controlled by two-way stops or signals. Serious accidents are extremely rare, a fact a court has attributed to the absence of a statutory right-of-way for all-way stops."

This piece has some interesting ideas that deserve a shot. Of course, knee-jerk nanny-staters wouldn't like it, but if they spent less time in traffic, they'd have more time to find all sorts of other things to complain about.

(Via Planetizen)

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


« University Privatization in Virginia? | Main | The Hubris of Smart Growth »




Out of Control Policy Archives