Martin Cassini argues in the December 2006 issue of Economic Affairs that traffic lights should be abolished (www.iea.org.uk/files/upld-article124pdf?.pdf). Traffic lights reduce the capacity of the road network, lengthen journey times, increase pollution, and cause accidents. Whilst the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) agrees that mini-roundabouts are better than traffic lights at a junction, Cassini goes further, arguing for the abolition of both roundabouts and traffic lights, and their replacement by a 'filter-in-turn' system. To support his argument, Cassini cites those cases of traffic light failure in which traffic flow actually increases; this is, suggests Cassini, a consequence of people exercising voluntary care and attention, and engaging in spontaneous cooperative behaviour. Cassini poses the question:
Given the benefits of self-regulation, what do our highly-paid policy-makers propose? John Birt: ‘No comment.’ Transport Minister Douglas Alexander: ‘Road charging!’ Head of Highways Agency, Derek Turner, in charge of de-congesting our roads: ‘Speed delimiters!’ In other words, more expensive technology to hamper human nature and expand the control industry.
Cassini certainly has a point: there is an excessive amount of top-down, government planning and control of the road network, and this has reduced the capacity of the road network at exactly the time when the demand placed upon it is at its greatest. Traffic lights, bus-lanes, and one-way systems have all contributed to congestion, and this ideological trend needs to be reversed. However, it is worth pointing out that when cars do collide at an unregulated junction where there is a low volume of traffic, they often do so at moderate or high-speed, and because kinetic energy squares with velocity, the damage incurred is considerable. Those who work in risk management are often most concerned with low-frequency, but high-impact events, and I suspect that complete re-regulation of all junctions would increase the number of high-impact accidents. Almost counter-intuitively, then, it is perhaps only the busiest junctions from which we should remove the traffic lights, and substitute a filter-in-turn system.