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Get Rid Of Road Safety Controls

Injury Prevention Network of Aotearoa New Zealand

29 October 2007

For Better Road Safety, Get Rid Of Road Safety Controls

When drivers perceive a situation as 'unsafe', they tend to take more care. Therefore we should get rid of everything making drivers feel safe.

This was the challenge laid out by Australian author and lecturer, David Engwicht, in his opening address to the Injury Prevention Network of Aotearoa New Zealand (IPNANZ) conference in Napier today.

The co-founder of Creative Communities International said a false sense of security when situations appear safe can actually increase danger. People who feel safe may pay less attention to risk.

"In an EU-funded 'Shared Space Project', more than 30 villages in the Netherlands, and several other places in Europe, are actually removing traffic control devices to deliberately create uncertainty," Mr Engwicht said.

"Speeds have reduced dramatically as a result, and there has been an increase in safety. Drivers are forced to look each other in the eye and negotiate their way through the space."

Mr Engwicht said in 1996 he discovered that intrigue, uncertainty and humour create 'mental speed bumps' which subconsciously slow motorists.

"They move people into a different frame of mind, where their perceptions of space and time are radically altered. The result is they automatically drive more slowly."

Mr Engwicht often demonstrates how mental speed bumps work by putting a colourful throne in the middle of a street and sitting in it waving at passing motorists.

"Not only do the motorists slow down, they often stop and have a conversation. Some have even climbed out of their cars to join the celebration! Intrigue switches them from being a motorist besotted with speed and time into someone lost in the moment."

He told the conference delegates he was working with the Wodonga City Council in Victoria overseeing the transformation of the main street into a series of 'lounges' furnished with sculpture, water features, landscaping, merchant carts and food stalls.

"The movement path through the ‘lounges’ becomes self-evident by the placement of the furniture items," Mr Engwicht said.

"Australia, New Zealand and North America have a history of designing their streets as corridors, which have the primary function of moving people towards a destination.

"Before the Industrial Revolution, and even in some places today, Europeans treated their streets as 'outdoor lounges'; spaces that formed a range of social purposes. Being 'movement corridors' was only a secondary function. We will be demonstrating, on a grand scale, how a typical Australian street, designed as a corridor, can be retrofitted into a series of rooms.”

Mr Engwicht said road safety authorities ignore human psychology at their peril.

"It seems counter-intuitive, but perceptions of danger can make people act more responsibly. Making things appear safer encourages them to take more risk."


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