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International Traffic Laws That Actually Work

Author: Jason Snyman
Date: 2017-10-29
All around the world, different countries have implemented rules of the road to ease traffic, lessen danger and make commuting more bearable.
In South Africa, herders and their cattle have more right of way than drivers do. They’re allowed to halt traffic so that their livestock may cross the road. Likewise, in the United Arab Emirates, camels have the rule of the road and you have to yield for them. That’s just the law, but it’s not the most bizarre traffic law in the world. Saudi Arabia, for a long time, remained the only country in the world where it was illegal for a female to drive a car. In Russia or Romania, the traffic laws forbid you to drive a dirty car. If this were a South African law, the whole of Cape Town would be in Pollsmoor Prison right now. The US is also well known for some pretty strange rules when it comes to traffic. In Derby, Kansas you can get 30 days in jail for screeching your tyres. Randfontein drivers would be permanently incarcerated. Now, strange laws are plentiful and can be found anywhere. Every single country does things in their own way. What we looked for, which is infinitely more complicated, were the traffic laws that actually made a positive difference.

The Shared Space Theory

Sometimes, the removal of traffic laws can make more of a difference. Once known as ‘Pedestrian Priority’ – the concept of a ‘Shared Space’ traffic system was pioneered by Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman. Monderman has suggested that, by creating a greater sense of uncertainty and making it unclear who has right of way, drivers will reduce their speed. This, in turn, is meant to reduce the dominance of vehicles, improving safety for other users and lowering road casualty rates. They accomplish this by removing all traffic signs, traffic lights, road markings and sidewalks from an area. The theory is that drivers pay more attention to their surroundings when they cannot rely on strict traffic rules. In moments of hesitation, we tend to seek out the eyes of other drivers. Who goes first? What’s happening here? We automatically reduce our speed and exercise caution when we have contact with other people. "We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behaviour...” Monderman has said. “The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles." In other words, the more we’re instructed how, when and where to drive or walk, the less responsibility we take for those actions. The system was implemented in the town centre of Drachten, a town in the Netherlands. Previously, the town centre saw an average of 8 accidents a year. After the implementation, that number dropped to 1. The system has been used in a number of countries, namely Austria, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Though the scheme is known to reduce speed, fatalities and congestion, it is not without flaws. For instance, it’s not very friendly to blind people, elderly people or people who are intimidated by traffic in general.  

A Little Over The Top

Typically, people adjust their behaviour in response to the perceived level of risk. People become more cautious when we sense greater risk and reckless when we feel more protected. We drive faster when we wear seatbelts; we pay less attention in areas we’re more familiar with, etc. It’s called Risk Compensation, and in theory, it’s how the above-mentioned Shared Space system works. It creates more risk, and therefore more awareness, by stripping familiarity and order away. Economist and professor of law and economics, Gordon Tullock, took it one step further. In a thought experiment, Tullock suggests that if governments were really serious about forcing motorists to drive safer, they should mandate that a sharp spike be installed in the centre of every car’s steering wheel. This thought experiment is called ‘Tullock’s Spike.’ The idea is that this spike will increase the probability that an accident would be fatal to the driver. By the normal process of risk compensation, this would then lead to safer driving.
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Rettungsgasse and Other Traffic Regulations

Rettungsgasse, or Rescue Lane, is a traffic regulation in Germany since last year. This requires drivers stuck in gridlock traffic on long, straight roads such as the autobahn to immediately move their vehicles over to the left or right (depending on which lane they’re in) in order to form a clear lane down the middle. This is for emergency response vehicles to use. In general, it is law in almost every civilized country in the world to move out of the way when an emergency vehicle approaches. But, because there’s always that one idiot who tries to move over in the wrong direction, the system inevitably falls apart and blocks the ambulance or fire truck from getting through. Therefore, Germany now insists that motorists form the rescue lane as soon as traffic comes to a standstill. In Germany, it is also illegal to run out of fuel on the autobahn. Because, really, these things shouldn’t happen if you’re paying attention to your vehicle. Over in Saudi Arabia, there are two highways when approaching the holy city of Mecca. One is for Muslims only and the other for non-Muslims. This is because non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the holy city, and the alternative highway will take you safely around. Taking the wrong time could land you some hefty fines or deportation. In the USA, you may still turn right at a red traffic light, as long as the road is clear of pedestrians and traffic. This could speed up a lengthy commute. In short, some of these laws work, for different reasons. They won’t work everywhere, though. Do you think they’ll work in South Africa? And in the meanwhile, if you’re wondering why traffic jams seem to appear out of nowhere….

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