If you saw someone blow past a yield sign into traffic and vanish in an explosion of steel and glass not unlike one of the Iron Giant’s volcanic diarrheas, you’d be tempted to blame the crash on the driver who ignored the road sign.
But what if the yield sign wasn’t there, like those intersections where there’s nothing but an esoteric flashing yellow light and everyone stops and stares at each other? There would probably still be the odd person who flies through, but average drivers would become extremely cautious as a result of having no clear instruction of what to do. They would instead just intuit their next move based on the traffic around them, which is kind of the point of stoplights and road signs to begin with — to force you to stop and look
In other words, you may be better off without the signs.
There are experts who believe that the overabundance of signs and signals just make you complacent, because you’re fixated on blindly following instructions printed on reflective metal rather than not killing your fellow drivers. And we’ve all seen it happen — drivers with a green light will plow through an intersection and T-bone another car that was clearly in their path, simply because the pretty colored light told them they had the right of way. And think about how people will lose their freaking minds if traffic and/or weather conditions have them driving slower than the posted speed limit, routinely causing accidents by trying to weave their way back up to maximum warp, even though the speed limit is literally just a number on a sign that takes absolutely nothing into consideration beyond what a few civil engineers came up with on a calculator 30 years ago.
The Dutch city of Drachten decided to test out the theory by replacing 20 four-way intersections with 20 roundabouts free of any road signage, and the results were surprisingly nothing like The Cannonball Run. One intersection that typically killed two to four people every year saw no injuries for the next six years, and another intersection went from 36 accidents in the previous four years to just two in two years. All this just from putting more responsibility into the hands of drivers and forcing them to interact with each other in the absence of indifferent commands from stoplights and signs (although it could also be related to the fact that nobody in the Netherlands has a The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift poster on their bedroom wall).
Since the success in Drachten, a number of other cities have tried out similar concepts, most notably London, whose recently debuted Exhibition Road looks like the guy in charge of painting lines on the streets was tripping balls that day.
We’re not saying that you should ignore stoplights and road signs, but that you shouldn’t rely on them to make every decision for you. Just because you had the right of way at an intersection won’t make you any less dead if you pull in front of an 18 wheeler, and refusing to slow down for pedestrians because they aren’t crossing in a designated crosswalk won’t put you any less in jail if you chop them in half with your Daewoo.
Or maybe we should just put it this way: Obey the signs, but assume that nobody else is doing so.