Rules? We Don’t Need Your Stinking Rules!

signs.jpgA very odd idea from Europe:

European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and directives. They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren — by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs.

Why? Because the law is so overgrown in the old country that it is (allegedly) ignored:

About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What’s more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow . . . The new traffic model’s advocates believe the only way out of this vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves. They demand streets like those during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion. The new model’s proponents envision today’s drivers and pedestrians blending into a colorful and peaceful traffic stream.

Ok, I get the concept, and I do think that the proliferation of law results in an enforcement loss on the margins. But there are two conditions to this experiment’s success.

First, it isn’t scalable. In absolute terms, big cities seem to me to be vastly harder to de-sign than small cities: the temptation to defect is higher; the benefits of cooperation diffuse; and the social sanctions easy to avoid. Similarly, homogenous and nondiverse populations like those that still dominate parts of Europe probably need less law than heterogeneous ones – a straightforward Shasta County idea.

Second, you still need private (tort) law. Even when the stop sign gets carted away, a reasonable duty of care remains. Further, that law has to be relatively well-appreciated to be effective. Therefore, the designers of the experiment must be sort of suggesting that we can remove law’s signs because the rules have been completely internalized.

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5 Responses

  1. J.D. Bolick says:

    This decision is uproariously funny, not just because they’re indulging in something highly illogical at the behest of psychologists of all people, but because it is a perfect illustration of the trend in Europe toward a second period of romanticism. When reason is banished even from highly dangerous conditions in favor of “feelings,” you know things have gotten out of hand. It will be amusing to see how this unfolds, I just hope there aren’t too many deaths and mangled limbs in the process before they wake up and rejoin the rest of the rational world.

  2. Alfredo Escalona says:


    This is a perfect example of all-or-nothing-thinking.

    The problem is the ridiculous proliferation of different signs. What is needed is to prioritize signs, keep the most important, and get rid of the rest. Keep stop signs, one-way signs, etc.

    Otherwise, what you will do is slow traffic to a standstill as everyone stops at every intersection and timidly looks left and right before crossing. Not to mention the explosion of lawsuits for not obeying non-existent rules.

    This is a thinly-disguised full-employment act for lawyers. What little efficiency will be gained in smaller towns will be demolished by massive slowdowns in larger cities and courtroom case explosion.

  3. Johannah T says:

    I think this European traffic experiment may work, accidents have declined where the traffic sign prohibition exists. Pedestrians walk about in all sorts of crowded places without bumping into one another, and without traffic signs. I think, when driving, we tend to dehumanize the drivers in other cars which, I think, makes it easier to cut some off or rush through a yellow light.

    Bravo, I say, and I hope it proves successful and the rest of the world follows suit.

  4. Antiquated Tory says:

    For f**k’s sake, the town they’ve tried this in is in West Friesland. There are more cows than drivers there. The Dutch are smug little good citizens by and large, this is more true in rural areas, more true in the Calvinist north, and most true of the Frisians vs the Dutch proper.

    Try this in the Czech Republic, where men drive with their little head instead of their big one as it is, and we have the highest rate of pedestrians hit by drivers. Only the blanket granting of pedestrian right of way has begun to even make a dent in it.

  5. Heather R says:

    Bravo, indeed. Although – *please* don’t replace sidewalks with cobbles! I’m a wheelchair user, and you just can’t roll a wheelchair over cobbles. I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere…