Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chaos is an order we don't understand yet

Cars gone wild is a CNN news report about a change in traffic laws in Holland. The architect of the change is quoted in the report saying "Chaos is an order we don't understand yet, and order is a chaos where we put in the order later on". What they've done is to undo most of the traffic laws, take away most of the traffic lights, flatten the street curbs, and institute a pair of simple rules. First, drive on the right side of the road, and second those coming from the right have the right of way. The idea is to encourage self responsibility as much as possible.

Towards the end they quote a few people who are worried, they think this increases their danger, and (they say) they have to pay more attention.

Well, that last idea, that they have to pay more attention, will actually increase their safety. But most people don't understand it. Instead the populations have bought into this idea that it's externally imposed order (traffic laws) which create safety for us.

This last year I've been learning to ride a motorcycle, and it's reinforced an idea I'd already learned from elsewhere. In the motorcycle safety training class I took they reinforced over and over, when on a motorcycle the best way to create safety for yourself is to pay attention to what's going on around you. To look, evaluate, and plan your riding path and speed based on what you evaluate in the traffic around you.

In my life I've been in a couple dozen traffic accidents of all kinds. While riding bicycles, while being a passenger in someone elses car, while driving a car, and once while standing in the middle of the road. What I learned from those accidents is that the key common feature to all of them is this: That someone wasn't paying attention.

Speaking from my individual self, I can't control what the other drivers do around me. What I can do is control what I do, and at least if the other drivers aren't paying attention, I can do so if only for my safety. But it's interesting how people tend to zone out while driving in a car. I don't know what they're thinking because if they really think about it, driving in a car, going 70 miles/hr or more, that carries a tremendous amount of inertia, and if the car is in a collision that inertia becomes potential damage to the occupants of the car. I think of driving on the road, even very safe roads, as a very dangerous thing to do. The separation between cars on the highway is very small, most people are ignoring the safe following distance recommendations, and the rise of chatting on cell phones while driving is even further distracting the people from safe vehicle usage.

I think the best mechanism to increase road safety is for everyone to pay more attention.

And that's what these people in Holland are attempting to do. To remove the traffic laws and thereby causing the people to pay more attention.