This is what I see as the order of things as it pertains to our roads. Not in terms of outright importance, per se – they are all important, possibly equally so – but maybe more in terms of the order in which we apply our efforts. First we educate. Second, we make the environment as logical and as representative of the outcome we want as possible. Finally, we make laws – with convincing repercussions – to catch everything outside of this.
Just to clear this up in advance, I’m not suggesting that this “ordering” of things is against a blank canvass. That would be rather pointless. I’m thinking about this in the present world, where we already have education, roads, and laws. Further, there is nothing in what I’m discussing that suggests that these things happen in isolation, or that they don’t overlap. This is more of a general discussion about where, or when, these things might be best applied, and their limits.
This really doesn’t need all that much explanation. Some things we learn all by ourselves, other things we don’t. Some people need more instruction than others while some seemed determined to never learn much at all, but we all need to learn.
We also need to learn the right things. We can learn all sorts of things in life, and what the right things are will depend on the community you are a part of. If you are part of a society, then you will have to learn how to operate within that society in accordance with the prevailing accepted norms.
Clearly, some people disagree with what some societies teach, what some societies feel is acceptable, with the balance some societies strike between their many different interests, and with how this is all accomplished. Dissent is important for a healthy society, and sometimes prevailing norms need challenging and to be steered in another direction as they become extreme or misguided or inappropriate as time moves on and the world changes.
What we teach is entirely another topic, but whatever the case, education is required, and is the first step to a well-functioning society. As our next section discusses infrastructure, I propose that the most important part of education for our purposes aims to teach people to be good, conscientious, respectable, logical, reasonable, reflective, temperate people first, in order to best inform us in being competent operators of dangerous tools around others, and, one would expect, to have the really basic skills that allow people to navigate themselves through our cities no matter what the method of travel.
I feel very strongly that education is merely the first step, and further, can’t be trusted to any significant degree to deliver the desired outcome.
This is because I have a somewhat dim view of humanity, as regular readers may know.
The best case scenario still leaves a huge amount of room for horrifyingly bad results on our roads. Good, smart people, who intend only good things and can actually operate a vehicle with competence, can still become distracted, or can encounter things that are realistically outside the sphere of their control or expectations.
The worst case scenario, which is sadly far too commonplace, is that some people just aren’t that well-developed, either in character, maturity, intelligence, temperament, or technical ability. Humans are also innately selfish, which is what I think is the single-most influential factor in all of life’s problems.
So because people have brains of their own, of varying degrees of effectiveness, can operate them in a relatively free society, and are born with an innate urge to satisfy their own desires first, education on its own only carries so much influence.
Hence: infrastructure. Infrastructure can actually be both nature (in a material sense) and nurture. We can design passive environments that influence people’s behaviour, for better or worse.
Wide open spaces make people drive faster and give them a false sense of security. Designing a road with slightly narrower lanes and certain passive features found along it creates a mindset that slows the driver down and increases caution, which increases safety. Why tell someone to drive slow when the roads tells them to drive fast?
One could argue that an environment that is designed well enough could be all the instruction that one needs. If a road was built with all of the right outcomes in mind, than we shouldn’t actually be in need of speed limit signs, or children at play signs, or any other sign that makes up for a lack of built-in information. One could argue that, and I think this is indeed the mark of a well designed environment, but information is only one part of the human condition – what we do with it is another completely.
Again, what the infrastructure actually is is for another discussion, but for this one, the point is that after we teach individuals what they need to know, we can then work on making our built environments as reflective of the outcomes we wish to encounter as possible.
Sadly, far too much of ours reflects our priority for speed over safety, and cars over people.
It should be noted that I am assuming that behind widespread, good, inclusive, infrastructure lies good policy. One does not happen with the other.
Finally, because education and well-designed environments won’t be enough for everyone, all of the time, we need a final safety net for all those who slip through our best intentions.
For everyone who makes an honest mistake, I think experiencing repercussions still has value. They help to reinforce the importance of making good decisions. Those who willfully choose bad behaviour likely need more incentive to correct their behaviour, and I also think that once you know the score, that you should only get a certain number of chances until you don’t get to do that thing again (like drive). I can’t understand why we read stories about horrible carnage on our roads that are caused by people who already have a long string of offenses to their name.
Again, because people are inherently selfish and prone to act in response to emotional outbursts of varying degrees, we need a system of checks and balances to counter this fact of life. Laws, and their associated penalties, will always be required on matter how well we educate, and no matter how well we design our infrastructure.
We start with education in order to release intelligent and capable people into well designed environments that encourage and inform us about the type of behaviour that is expected, and for everyone that thinks they’re above that or suspends thought altogether, the law needs to scoop them up and send a message to them and everyone else that there is no room on our roads for any behaviour that puts others at risk.
Makes sense to me, anyway.
Header image: source