Thinking outside of the signal box

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Thinking outside of the signal box


The Arc de Triomphe in Paris is a famous piece of architecture commemorating Napoleon’s war victory. But for Parisians, it is notorious for being a driver’s license test course. From the triumphal arch, surrounded by a wide oval roundabout, there are 12 streets, including the Champs-Elysees, spreading out in all directions. Hundreds of vehicles flow in and out of the area constantly.

But there are no traffic signals. Instead, there is only one rule: drivers should give way to those who enter the circle on their right. The rest of the problems are supposed to be settled between the drivers themselves.

But what would happen if all the traffic signals were removed? Drachten, a small town with a population of 50,000 in the Netherlands, challenged that noble idea in 2003 by eliminating all traffic signals. The idea was that traffic accidents break out frequently because drivers only relied on traffic signals and were liable to neglect other potential risks.

After all of the traffic signs and signals were removed, people became more considerate of one another, whether walking, bicycling or driving, and communicated with each other through gestures and eye contact. Traffic flowed much more smoothly and the number of traffic accidents dropped conspicuously. The experiment, which proved “unsafe is safe,” has since been tried in other small and mid-sized cities in the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and Denmark.

Psychologists have said that excessive regulations cause tunnel vision. In other words, people become narrow-minded beings who see the outside world only through the entrance of the tunnel. That’s why there are so many signal violations, cut-ins and incidences of speeding even though countless traffic signs have been installed. Even a survey carried out overseas showed that drivers ignore 70 percent of traffic signs.

The National Police Agency quoted “international standards” as the excuse for its plan to change the current traffic light system. But the obscure “international standards” are nothing but a pretext for wasting money on traffic lights. The world is already a complicated place. The late Venerable Beopjeong once said that we should lead a simple life. It may be impractical to introduce a no-traffic-light system to a metropolitan city like Seoul but how about reducing the number of traffic lights, at least for now?

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Ko Dae-hoon
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