Planned Anarchy

No street signs. No crosswalks. No accidents. A fantastic Wired article about how removing the artificial safety nets we set up for ourself actually makes us safer. The illusion of safety is a very dangerous thing. This is totally applicable to software design too. If you put up a big notice saying “Don’t do this” people won’t read it, you have to design the interaction to encourage people in the right direction.

14 thoughts on “Planned Anarchy

  1. One only has to visit India to find out what lack of traffic rules can mean. There are no lanes, people constantly straddle two lanes, the lights are often broken, and since no one cares about the lights, we need traffic policemen at the important junctions. No one I know has ever got a speeding ticket, there are no posted speed limits, and yet, inspite of Indian cities having populations equal to some American states’, there aren’t a catastrophic number of accidents there.

    In fact, I used used to feel safer riding my bicycle in India, I can’t imagine bicycling here, in all this order.

  2. Carthik,

    that’s the same thing as in Thailand except in Thailand tons of people die daily in car accidents. I think that how dangerous driving in depends on the nature of the people who are driving. A statement as broad as that could have books written on it but no one wants to hear me rant on why accidents happen so much in US but not so much in other places.


  3. Carthik: I think it has to do with the variety of the traffic? Scooters, motorbikes, autorickshaws, taxis… Here in the US it’s like, get out of the way of my SUV!!

    To be honest though, you’d have to admit that this ‘safety’ back home comes at the expense of order–there’s no such thing as just zooming from one place to another.

    Andrew, is the city you’re thinking of mostly cars?

  4. That’s a fascinating article. I like its out-of-the-box thinking and application to real-life (and perhaps hazardous) situations. It takes some courage for changes to be made to a system like that.

    At one point in the article I was wondering whether part of the reason this works is that people were “trained” by signs earlier and thus were simply more cautious due to a lack of signs. My question was something like: “What if a new generation arises that has never dealt with signs and they have this sign-less freedom offered to them.” But it appears from the article that the system is based on humans using their intelligence and intuition rather than on any social training they’ve received. So maybe that isn’t really a concern.

    I did hear somewhere that 85% of people drive as fast as they feel it is safe to drive and that 15% of people drive as fast as they want to, inconsiderate of safe driving speed. My concern is whether that percentage of people would create a problem with this system. Again though, the article discusses that fatalities over a given year have dropped in places. That’s a measured improvement so what more can we ask for.

    Thanks again for the link.

  5. Don’t forget they are also redesigning things as they remove the signs. I’ve seen a similar study for removing the guardrails from dangerous cliff roads: people fall off less when they’re not there.

  6. I’ve been to Thailand many times, and in fact I’m going there again in about a week. As crowded as Bangkok is, I’ve never seen an accident. However, being in traffic there is about the scariest thing in the world, especially in a taxi. Also, you have to remember that during rush hour there, it takes about 2 hours to go a few miles, so at that speed there’s very little chance of getting in an accident.

    Anyway, last time I went there I was 11, so my memory’s a bit fuzzy. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up once I get back. 😉 (That won’t be until mid-January though.)

  7. Firas,
    The city I’m thinking of is mostly mopeds which does explain the amount of accidents. I believe the figures were 30 deaths a day from moped accidents in the city but that seems way to high. Never trust those damn thais, they are always stretching the truth.


  8. May i suggest the more prosaic theory:

    People go “eh? whats this?” and are automatically 100x more observant. make everything like that and its back to the mind somewhere else style of driving.

    course maybe im wrong… IANAPsychologist

  9. Wow, now that’s an interesting article. I guess this has something to do with why i flunked all my electives in school and aced all the classes that people have been talking about to be scared of.
    But like Carthik mentioned, you got to be in South India to believe this. The traffic is unbelievable, but they all seem to speak the same “language” and its not signs.

  10. I always like traveling in Mexico – if there’s a big pothole or debris in the road, typically there’ll be a large branch or something similar pulled out on either side of the obstacle. Here in America, it’s 500 feet of blaze orange cones/pylons, and a huge flashing arrow sign. What a waste.

  11. In malaysia, its all about road signs. Once i drove pass a construction site near a highway, there were 5 signs placed beside the road that say ‘Careful, construction site ahead!’.

    All in 5 different languages.

    Isnt it wonderful living in a multicultural society?

  12. I think it only applies to modern cities where people are smart and educated. In most Asian cities no signs and no rules can mean havoc. When you have common sense and you use it, it sums up to greater things, but when you don’t it creates more trouble than its worth.

  13. this is s STUPID idea. “roundabouts” are dumb .. just my opinion…
    here is a quote from the article

    ” Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact ”

    Ok… so who HAS THE LEGAL right of way. can you just see the court case…….
    our negotiation through fleeting eye contact….. BLAH….

    USE A LIGHT OR STOP SIGN… PEOPLE NEED TO STOP AT INTERSECTIONS… roundabouts make people feel like they dont need to stop.

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