I’ve often wondered about the value of traffic rules, especially when most people driving are not aware of their existence. Apparently I’m not the only one. Some European cities thought they had too many traffic signs and decided to get rid of them all, along with the rules they indicated. Even the lines on the roads are gone. “Surely this must have lead to chaos, and many accidents”, you might say. Actually, when they evaluated their experiments they found the opposite.
Surely this must be an example of the Peltzman Effect in reverse. This effect, named after an economist at the University of Chicago, essentially says that people react to a safety regulation by changing to a more risky behaviour. Put differently, when it’s cheaper to be more reckless, people are more reckless, just as when tomatoes become cheaper, we buy more of them. When you remove the traffic rules, it becomes more expensive to assume things about other people on the roads, and so drivers pay more attention and drive more carefully. It’s rather interesting, and in this case it appears as if this change in behaviour is the bigger effect. The next step should be for a larger city to try this, and see if the results are the same.