John Stossel

This sounds paradoxical. Politicians often sneer at libertarians, saying, "You want to get rid of traffic lights?!" Well, yes, actually. In some cases, traffic moves better and more safely when government removes traffic lights, stop signs, even curbs.

It's Friedrich Hayek's "spontaneous" order in action: Instead of sitting at a mechanized light waiting to be told when to go, drivers meet in an intersection and negotiate their way through by making eye contact and gesturing. The secret is that drivers must pay attention to their surroundings -- to pedestrians and other cars -- rather than just to signs and signals. It demonstrates the "Peltzman Effect" (named after retired University of Chicago economist Sam Peltzman): People tend to behave more recklessly when their sense of safety is increased. By removing signs, lights and barriers, drivers feel less safe, so they drive more carefully. They pay more attention.

In Drachten, Holland, lights and signs were removed from an intersection handling about 30,000 cars a day. Average waiting times dropped from 50 seconds to less than 30 seconds. Accidents dropped from an average of eight per year to just one.

On Kensington High Street in London, after pedestrian railing and other traffic markers were removed, accidents dropped by 44 percent.

"What these signs are doing is treating the driver as if they were an idiot," says traffic architect Ben Hamilton-Baillie. "If you do so, drivers exhibit no intelligence."

Once again, freedom and responsibility triumph.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate