DISTRACTING MISS DAISY

July 10, 2008

The United States should adopt a traffic system more like the one in the United Kingdom, which has fewer stop signs, fewer traffic lights, and fewer fatalities, says Dr. John Staddon, the James B. Duke professor of psychology and brain sciences at Duke University. 

Consider:

  • Fatalities per mile traveled were 36 percent greater in the United States than in the United Kingdom, as of 2003.
  • If the U.S. death rate were the same as the U.K.'s, then roughly 6,000 fewer Americans would die each year.
  • As the United Kingdom has refined and simplified its traffic control system over the past 30 years, total traffic fatalities have fallen by about 50 percent.
  • Over the same period, fatalities in the United States have declined by just 20 percent; in the past several years, they have not declined at all.

The U.S. traffic system has an overabundance of stop signs and speed limits, says Dr. Staddon, both of which are dangerous to American drivers.  For example:  

  • Stop signs are costly to drivers and bad for the environment, because stop/start driving uses more gas, and vehicles pollute most when starting up from rest.
  • The plethora of stop signs also teaches drivers to be less observant of cross traffic and to exercise less judgment when driving -- instead they just follow the signs they see.
  • Speed limits in the United States are perhaps a more severe safety hazard than stop signs.
  • In many places, speed limits change too frequently -- sometimes every few hundred yards -- once again training drivers to look for signs, not at the road.
  • Speed limits in the United States are also set in arbitrary and irrational ways; for example, an eight-lane interstate could have a limit anywhere between 50 to 70 miles per hour, or even more.

Source: John Staddon, "Distracting Miss Daisy," The Atlantic, July/August 2008.

For text:

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/traffic 

 

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