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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Removing signals 'would make roads safer'
Traffic congestion
New rules would rely on 'driver intelligence'
The key to improving safety at road junctions could be to strip them of traffic lights and other road control measures and reduce speed limits to 20mph.

The system is based on no-one having right of way, forcing motorists, pedestrians and other road users to make eye contact and decide among themselves when it is safe to proceed.

The principle flies in the face of 50 years of traffic safety engineering, which has seen the installation of increasingly more sophisticated road safety features, from pedestrian crossings to traffic lights and speed cameras.

The more you add regulation control systems in towns... the less safe it becomes

Ben Hamilton-Bailey, urban design consultant
A similar "back to basics" system has already proved successful in the Netherlands and the idea will be presented to civil engineers in the UK.

Urban design consultant Ben Hamilton-Bailey suggested a plan to abandon the rules.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "The more you add regulation control systems in towns, strangely, the less safe it becomes because then drivers don't engage with their surroundings and don't think.

"It's premised on the notion that it's more sensible to treat drivers as if they were intelligent, rather than to treat them as if they were idiots."

The Dutch model is combined with a 20mph speed limit at junctions.

In many Dutch cities all traffic lights are switched off at night, forcing drivers to behave as at a normal junction.

Eye contact

Mr Hamilton-Bailey said: "Slower speeds and more intelligent driving appear to provide better capacity on our roads."

"At speeds below 20mph, two things happen.

"Firstly, it's much easier for pedestrians, cyclists and cars to mix together and secondly, we tend not to get killed in collisions at less than that speed.

"But more importantly, we make eye contact and humans are remarkably good at sending messages through eye contact, but we can't do that at speeds of more than 20mph."

But the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) is cautious about the idea.

Rospa spokesman Roger Vincent said: "The 20mph restrictions are self-policing and to take people on trust to do that is taking a risk which may lead to an increase in the number of accidents.

20mph speed restriction sign
20mph restrictions would be self-policing
"But if there is any proven evidence to say this has worked in Holland, then it may be interesting to try it out at a junction in the UK as an experiment."

Rospa would like to see more emphasis on developing motorists' awareness and judgement skills while they are learning to drive.

Mr Vincent said: "We see drivers ignoring road signs all the time."

Mr Hamilton-Bailey will present his revolutionary proposals to the Institute of Civil Engineers on Monday.

Ten people are killed every day in road accidents in the UK.

The BBC's Robert Hall
"Because driving is less predictable, speeds are down and so are the accident figures"
Highways Agency Project Director, Richard Eastman
"Enforcement is a last resort"
See also:

14 Jul 00 | Talking Point
13 Apr 00 | UK
03 Apr 00 | Scotland
03 Aug 00 | UK
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