Delegates attending the annual Automotive Forum, organised by the Irish Motoring Writers Association and sponsored by Semperit Tyres, heard how overloading the motorist with traffic lights and road signs can increase road crashes in urban areas and that handing more responsibility to the driver can result in a spectacularly positive change in behaviour.
Urban design expert Ben Hamilton-Baillie from Bristol pointed to safety, economic, and quality-of-life benefits in better reconciling traffic movements with public spaces in towns and cities. He is a proponent of shared space, part of which involves removing traffic lights, road signs, road markings, and other regulatory devices from our streetscapes, and placing more responsibility on the driver. Drawing on pilot schemes from across Europe, he revealed how road-related injuries actually fall when drivers are given more freedom to drive at speeds that are appropriate to the environment. He cited the example of Makkinga in Holland, where a total removal of all traffic lights, road signs, and markings led to an improvement in both traffic flow and road safety.
The concept is rooted in a belief in human intelligence. “Presume the driver is an idiot, and he will act like an idiot,” explained Hamilton-Baillie, “remove a lot of the senseless signs and he will know how to act. Take away speed signs and you will witness how uncomfortable drivers are exceeding the speed which establishes itself as the norm.”
He spoke of county councils in the UK removing centre lines markings from roads, and seeing a reduction in speed and accidents as a result. He would like to see such developments in Ireland. In addition, pilot schemes which involved turning off traffic lights have been made permanent, as congestion was seen to reduce significantly.
Car technology could render traffic lights redundant in any case, according to James Remfrey, director of technology intelligence at Continental. Telematics technology is enabling the car to communicate with other cars, alleviating the need for such infrastructure. Human error is at the root of 95 per cent of car accidents, he explained, highlighting the slowness of drivers in reacting to emergency situations. Forty per cent of drivers do not brake in a collision, for example. Ageing drivers is a growing issue of concern.
Michael Moroney, chairman, Irish Motoring Writers Association, pointed out the relevance of the forum, in particular given the plethora of road signs and speed limits in Ireland. In a 500m stretch approaching Newland’s Cross, for example, 23 official signs were in evidence.