Will Less Signage = Fewer North Carolina Auto Accidents?

May 18, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

It’s an unspoken belief among policymakers who want to eliminate or at least limit North Carolina motor vehicle accidents that “more guidance is better.” In other words, if you give drivers better protection systems, such as antilock brakes, computer aided navigation systems, and clearer on road signage, these factors will reduce injuries and accidents.

But what if that’s just not true?

As journalist Tom Vanderbilt pointed out in his popular 2007 book, Traffic, motor vehicle operators may actually function at better capacity when they are provided with LESS instruction, not more.

Vanderbilt’s thesis is pretty simple and actually powerfully intuitive: human beings are not evolved to be naturally good drivers. Moving at 60 miles per hour is not something that our paleolithic ancestors were ever capable of doing, unless they managed to hop a ride on a cheetah, in which case they probably didn’t last very long anyway.

Vanderbilt suggests that, as drivers, we often fail to see other drivers as “human.” This causes problems.

Rules of decorum break down. Rules of common courtesy and social respect break down. We are simply not able to process information effectively. What’s more, giving people better navigation systems, brakes, and instructions (through signage) doesn’t help. We simply compensate for this improved responsiveness by taking on more risk. This would explain why the advent of things like airbags and antilock brakes did not deter nearly as many accidents or injuries as industry analysts hoped at the outset.

On the other hand, there is a method that seems to work – creating uncertainty!

For instance, Vanderbilt describes the experience of a European town that decided to eliminate many of its posted signs – including stop signs. Drivers on these roads immediately became uncertain about how to interact — where other cars might be coming from, et cetera. As a result, they compensated. They defaulted back to their natural, human processing systems – their eyes and ears. As a result, amazingly, accident rates went down. Drivers began to see each other as “human” and it had a profound effect.

So what are the ultimate policy lessons? It’s hard to say. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that perhaps we need to be less focused on technologies and more focused on mechanisms to improve our “vision” of other drivers out there as human, just like we are.

Collecting compensation for car accidents is never easy – and plaintiffs can be often filled with frustration and overwhelm. A North Carolina auto accident law firm can help you deal successfully with your accident claim, so you can get the financial help and closure you need to move on with your life.

More Web Resources:

Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic

Do stop signs work?


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