Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The stop sign and the tragedy of the commons

Whenever I drive in the United States, I am really annoyed by the repeated stopping of traffic. There is a stop sign almost on every corner, and sometimes there is not even a corner. Stop signs proliferate in the name of security, but cannot be convinced that it increases security.

This article in the Atlantic relates my thoughts on this: the stop sign forest reduces the alertedness of drivers, who are then not able to judge driving conditions. That could explain why the United States has the highest traffic related death rate in the OECD (save for Korea, Poland and Greece), despite having wider lanes and less dense population. American drive like sheep just obeying signals.

Why tragedy of the commons? While an additional stop sign increases safety where it is put, it leads drivers overall even more into passive driving and make them more dangerous everywhere.

That said, GPS systems start having the same impact. People blindly follow what the GPS says, even against the reality outside. Britain is considering introducing a ... new sign that would alert truck drivers that a road is no good, despite what the GPS says.

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