A Moment of Science

Fewer Signs, Safer Driving?

Which would you say is safer, a street with or without traffic signs and stoplights?

Stoplight at sunset.

Photo: kafkan

According to some urban planners, fewer stoplights and caution signs make for safer roads.

You probably agree that a street with signs and stoplights is safer. Without stop signs and signals, how would anyone know when to stop and when to go?

That would seem to make sense, but one group thinks it’s not necessarily true. According to a school of urban planning called “Shared Space,” the best way to make city streets safer is to have fewer signs and stoplights.

The Shared Space Philosophy is based on something called the risk compensation effect. The more road signs there are telling drivers what to do, the safer they feel. Thus, they’re prone to pay less attention to what’s going on around them, and drive more recklessly. However, when there are fewer signs and signals, and things feel more uncertain, the driver is more alert and engaged.

If the situation seems riskier people will be more cautious. Not all urban designers and traffic specialists agree with the Shared Space idea. In fact, many consider it to be pretty radical. It’s just one of many things being tried to make city streets safer, but the idea of shared space is interesting.

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