Formula for failure

A Massachusetts town got a bucket of money to grease some squeaky wheels. Connecticut towns got a forest of signs to make some squeaky wheels. Taking money and giving it back is how higher government justifies its existence.

The town of Weymouth was rewarded for chanting a rhyming slogan. Part of the reward, paid out of highway safety funds, was designed to make residents shut up. Totally serious here. Streets would get speed feedback signs “based on the volume of complaints by residents.” Like most traffic signs, radar signs are for the emotional state we call “safety” rather than to solve any real problem.

The success of traffic control is not measured by how many people die, but by how many angry emails the town council receives.

Farther west, the federal government paid Connecticut $3.84 million to post tens of thousands of yellow-and-black chevrons on thousands of curves. Supposedly for safety. Did you think you lived on a scenic road? Not any more. You live in a black-and-yellow canyon.

A resident of one canyon complained there were no accidents to prevent because traffic was locals who were familiar with the curves.

A state DOT official responded the signs had to stay or the town would be liable for any accident on the road. But, the DOT said dangling a carrot, if you agree to reduce the speed limit we may be able to remove the signs. Eyesore or speed trap, your choice.

At the federal level, the reasoning was there are accidents on curves so we need more curve warning signs. DOT bureaucrats like precise rules, so they made one involving speed limits.

Recently North Dakota DOT killed a speed limit bill by telling the legislature raising the speed limit to 80 would cost $50 million. If lawmakers changed the speed limit to what people were already driving, the DOT would insist on rebuilding the Interstate system.

South Dakota raised the speed limit with $22,000 worth of stickers on existing signs.

I’ve written before about the American tendency to make numbers more important than the things they represent. It’s why there’s a push to set some picomolar concentration of THC as the legal limit, so the police officer with the machine that goes ping! can convict you of DWI without having to prove intoxication.

A while back a study by the Texas Transportation Institute found many curves with supposedly deficient design speed did not have high accident rates. I hoped that would tell policy makers to stop worshipping mathematical formulas and start looking at safety statistics. Wrong. It’s been received about as well as the study proving the common pedestrian safety model was wrong.

We have the worst of both worlds, a combination of precise mathematical formulas with slight connection to reality, and emotional responses with none at all.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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