Solutions for behaviour – No white lines, fewer crashes

Removing the white lines on roads results in drivers taking more responsibility for keeping themselves safe. More safety, fewer crashes.

That’s an odd idea isn’t it? But I must say that it often strikes me that when I’ve got so many signs, lines and instructions to pay attention to it’s almost impossible to watch the clock that tells me how fast I’m going.

As Simon Jenkins writes in today’s Guardian, in the 1990’s a Dutch engineer, Hans Monderman, took a leap of imagination. He thought of streets as ‘shared spaces’ and that they’d be safer if road users were trusted to share, to be self-policing. He ran some trials and they showed his idea worked. Now in 400 towns across Europe they’ve turned off the traffic lights and scrubbed off the paint.

The Automobile Association isn’t keen. In fact they want more road markings and tell us that the safety technology on some cars relies on them so removing them would be a bad thing.

Here’s a thing. The research shows clear roads and self-regulating drivers are safer. There is no research to back up the AA’s claims of doom and gloom if we start to trust each other to not run us over instead of just following the rules and going as fast as we can. True, it’ll be inconvenient if the car builders have to rethink self-driving cars and we can’t sit in the back seat eating our breakfast on the way to work. Well, maybe not that inconvenient. A survey carried out at traffic lights showed that when the lights were switched off, people in cars and crossing the road looked at each other to check when it was safe to go and safer to stop. The result was traffic moved more smoothly and no-one got hurt. Odd, that.

Now I’d not go as far as to say we could just cut and paste this idea into schools without some thought. There have to be boundaries to behaviour, like if you want to drive a racing car you go to a race track, not a Tesco car park.

But hold on a minute. Some schools are doing this already, they do seem to survive without so many road markings. When a school is a shared space, as Monderman put it, people pay attention to each rather than to the technology of regulation.

The education equivalent of the AA rises up in anger when they hear of a school breaking the rules by not painting them on every available surface. The outgone Behaviour Guru, Charlie Taylor’s sole legacy to schools is a list of rules and regulations, that he said we must write on the walls of every classroom and recite twice a day. Of course we didn’t do as we were told. More traffic lights.

Rules and regulations or personal responsibility? More paint or more paying attention to each other?

Oh, better be off, the lights have changed.