As a result of the recent extreme weather conditions, many British Columbian road users have recently faced the challenge of the four-way stop procedure with the control lights out. Road Rules readers, who found themselves, as drivers, marveling at the variety of interpretations of this procedure, may also have some questions about the unsual road design theory developed by the Dutch road engineer, Hans Monderman, mentioned in last week’s article.
Monderman designs roads, the safe usage of which results from negotiation between road users rather than from habitual obedience to prescribed rules. According to Monderman, “Road signs are an admission of failure, a sign—literally—that a road designer somewhere hasn’t done the job.” But in recent experience, the lack of properly functioning traffic controls may seem to just produce traffic chaos.
However, it also appears that long before the power came back on, order on the roads had been restored. And, interestingly, an unusual lull in the reporting of motor vehicle accidents suggested that there might well have been fewer crashes than normal. Could this have been because all road users were forced to slow down, pay more attention, be more patient and courteous, and take more care?
Monderman would say so, and backs this up with more examples. In the town of Christianfield, Denmark, the stripping of traffic signs and signals from its major intersection reportedly cut the number of serious or fatal accidents a year from three to zero. In England, towns of Suffolk and Wiltshire, in an effort to slow traffic, removed all the lane lines from their secondary roads. A study found that drivers drove more safely and accidents decreased by 35 percent.
In the Dutch village of Oosterwolde, Monderman turned a conventional road intersection with traffic lights into a public square that mixes cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. Since the redesign in 1999, about 5,000 cars pass through the square each day, with no serious accidents.
Monderman reportedly offers himself up as the prime test subject for such redesigns. On the edge of the Oosterwolde square, he “tucks his hands behind his back and begins to walk into the square—backward—straight into traffic, without being able to see oncoming vehicles. A stream of motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians ease around him, instinctively yielding to a man with the courage of his convictions.”
More really bad weather may be coming soon, major intersections may again lose the control lights and the “courtesy rules” will apply. Here is The Four-Way Stop Procedure:
The first vehicle to arrive at the intersection and come to a complete stop goes first. If two vehicles arrive and stop at the same time, the one on the right has the right-of-way and goes first. If two vehicles facing each other arrive and stop at the same time, the left –turning vehicle yields to the vehicle going straight through the intersection. And finally…if there is any doubt about who has the right-of-way, always yield to the other driver.