Tag Archives: Traffic

“It Says Take a Left Up This Impassable Mountain Track”

 
photo from Reuters

Apparently technology is making us so dumb we need signs to jolt us back to common sense. Reuters reports that Britain has started trials of special road signs warning “drivers about the dangers of trusting their satellite navigation devices (satnavs)”:

Some have reported that software glitches have sent drivers down one-way streets or up impassable mountain tracks.

One ambulance driver with a faulty satnav drove hundreds of miles in the wrong direction while transferring a patient from one hospital in Ilford east of London to another just eight miles away.

At what point, I wonder, did the ambulance driver think that perhaps he wasn’t taking the fastest route? The original story, according to The Times, involved the driver and his colleague driving

for eight hours before finally delivering the patient. After the equipment sent them north, they covered 215 miles in about four hours. The way back was only slightly shorter and took more than 3½ hours.

The device was reprogrammed, as were the two drivers. The Times comes up with a couple more examples:

Last month a woman dodged oncoming traffic for 14 miles after misreading her sat-nav system and driving the wrong way up a dual carriageway.Police said it was a miracle that no one was injured after the young woman joined the A3M, which links Portsmouth to London, on the southbound side — only to head north.

In September a taxi driver took two teenage girls 85 miles in the opposite direction after keying the wrong place name into his sat-nav. The girls asked to go to Lymington in the New Forest, Hampshire, but the driver tapped in Limington, Somerset.

I hear Somerset is very nice in September.

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Traffic Rules Part I

Traffic1The difference between a developed metropolis and a developing one isn’t transportation — it’s the rules and discipline about how that transportation is used. A city like Hong Kong flows because everyone follows the rules. A city like Jakarta doesn’t because people don’t. It’s not about building more roads, or more subways, or more bus lanes, but about developing rules that ensure existing transportation is used as it should be. Cars, people, trains and buses flow because they each agree to a set of rules that ensure that flow. In effect it’s like one big sliding puzzle. The bits move around because there’s space for them to move around.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s just people stopping at red lights, or people allowing passengers to alight before they try to embark. The rules can be sophisticated or basic, but they only work if they’re followed: In Hong Kong a taxi driver won’t cross a thick white line even if there’s no traffic around; in Jakarta there are several red lights around the city that cars don’t bother to even stop at. In one city nothing is negotiable; in another everything is. A new buslane in Jakarta that’s officially off limits to all vehicles except buses and emergency vehicles is already awash with ordinary traffic.

Somehow in Hong Kong the rules have become the norm, and no one needs to be around to enforce them. Everyone keeps everyone else in line. In Jakarta, the rules are seen as an obstacle, something to be overcome. It’s not as if drivers in Hong Kong are somehow collaborating in a fit of consideration, but there is a tacit recognition that by following the rules, everyone will benefit. Even in pedestrian overpasses, somehow a rule establishes itself — everyone walks on the left, say, and the two-way flow is optimized. It doesn’t seem hard and fast; the next day everyone seems to be walking on the right. But it works. A self-organizing system.

Jakarta is not. It’s a free-for-all. Or actually, it’s has its own rules. It’s just they’re not optimized for the situation. The bigger the vehicle, for example, the more it will take precedence over other vehicles. And a car in Hong Kong won’t pull into traffic if by doing so it will slow down that traffic. This is what the Stop/Give way/Yield sign is for. A car in Jakarta will do the opposite: It will pull out slowly, inching into the road until the traffic is forced to slow down to accommodate it. In fact the dominance of unwritten traffic rules in a city like Jakarta ensure that traffic will never work efficiently.

Until those rules are replaced with rules that work and the discipline to ensure they’re followed, developing cities will never become developed ones. It’s not about the infrastructure. It’s about the way it’s used.

News: Turkmenistan Gets It Right

From the I Know This Puts Me in The Old Attila the Hun, Died In The Wool Conservative, Young Fogey department, a story from Turkmenistan that I can’t help feeling is a step in the right direction. News Central Asia reports (and thanks to TechDirt for pointing it out) that drivers in Turkmenistan are now forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, listen to loud music or use a mobile phone while driving their vehicles.

These restrictions were announced on 1 May 2003 under the presidential order “Rules of Traffic for Turkmenistan” but their release was delayed because the driver carrying the order from the Ministry of Defence was arrested for picking his nose on the way. (Actually I made that bit up. He was caught playing The Rubettes ‘Sugar Baby Love’ and singing the high bits, thereby also breaking another set of laws about mimicking strangled chickens while working heavy machinery. )

The government handout goes on (and all this is real if nCa is to be believed): These rules are meant to enforce contemporary world practices in Turkmenistan.

Part of the problem seems to be enforcement. The regular traffic police, which operated under the Ministry of the Interior, was liquidated last year for reasons I am not able to go into here, mainly because I am not an expert on Turkmenistan. They now work under the management of the ministry of defence which inducts military conscripts as traffic cops. This may not be unrelated to a new system of penalties to encourage people to conform to the laws. According to a system introduced in January, a traffic penalty must be paid within 12 hours, or by 8 am the next day if the ticket was issued after 6 pm the previous day. In case of failure to do so, the amount of penalty would double every 12 hours. After 72 hours, the vehicle would be confiscated and will remain in government custody until the fine is paid. “It has been noted with satisfaction that the [stricter] rules have brought good results; now there are fewer traffic incidents,” says the official statement. It probably also means there are no cars left on the road that don’t belong to the police. That the traffic police are all carrying grenade launchers also probably helps. (I made that bit up too.)

Now it only remains to be seen what happens with these new violations. I have to say I’m all in favour. I hate people eating while they’re driving, particularly if they’re on the phone. And especially if they’re drinking at the same time, AND listening to The Rubettes. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.