August 17, 2008

TOM VANDERBILT on traffic. “When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like idiots.” I’ve started reading his book by the same name, but haven’t gotten too far yet.

UPDATE: Reader P.D. Schran emails:

The article you link echoes my own experience, and not just with traffic. When my husband and I moved to Massachusetts a couple of years ago, we were amazed by the culture of poor driving as well as the uber-nanny-state government. We quickly decided that the motto of the Massachusetts driver must be “Damn the traffic laws, ME FIRST!” But whereas you link suggests that the modified driver behavior is driven by a lowered feeling of security, I don’t think that’s the whole explanation. (Yes, I do think it plays a role, but it’s not all the reason.)

I don’t think the nanny-statism and selfish driving behavior are unrelated. In MA we quickly noted that the locals regularly ignored laws they didn’t feel they wanted to obey – no big deal. We concluded that over-legislation was part of the problem. Make too many laws and you can’t possibly obey them all. So respect for the law declines in general.

That was borne out (yes, anecdotally) by our recent move to South Dakota. Here there is a much greater culture of personal responsibility, and the drivers are so much better! People regularly drive the speed limit – unheard of back in MA. Also, a number of street intersections here in the city don’t even have stop signs – you are expected to recognize this, and proceed accordingly. And drivers are careful and observant and reasonable. Hence my theory: – When you treat people like children, they behave like children. Treat them like adults, and they behave like adults. Pretty close to your post…

Interesting.

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