Despite the fact that our species has had many years to perfect how we travel in cars, fatality rates continue to rise and roads are just as dangerous as ever.
Instead of trying something different, most governments throughout the world continue to double-down on their outdated and ineffective strategies, mostly involving extortion, which has done nothing to improve road safety.
There are some areas where radical solutions have been attempted, and in many cases, these different strategies have had extremely impressive results.
One of the most interesting experiments in traffic flow was pioneered by Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus, who fired a large portion of the city's cops and offered to retrain and rehire them as mimes.
“In a society where human life has lost value. There cannot be another priority than re-establishing respect for life as the main right and duty of citizens,” Mockus says.
Instead of writing tickets, the mimes were unleashed upon the city to direct traffic, while applauding good drivers and mocking bad ones. Surprisingly, the city saw a 50 percent drop in traffic fatalities, less congestion, and an overall better culture of driving.
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Jane Mansbidge of the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics at Harvard, recently had Mockus in to speak in front of one of her classes about his experiment.
"We found Mayor Mockus’ presentation intensely interesting. Our reading had focused on the standard material incentive-based systems for reducing corruption. He focused on changing hearts and minds – not through preaching but through artistically creative strategies that employed the power of individual and community disapproval," Mansbidge said.
"He also spoke openly, with a lovely partial self-mockery, of his own failings, not suggesting that he was more moral than anyone else. His presentation made it clear that the most effective campaigns combine material incentives with normative change and participatory stakeholding. He is a most engaging, almost pixieish math professor, not a stuffy ‘mayor’ at all. The students were enchanted, as was I,” she added.
Bogota's experiment shows that people can voluntarily police themselves, especially with some peaceful and lighthearted help from a non-threatening third party.
“It was a pacifist counterweight. With neither words nor weapons, the mimes were doubly unarmed. My goal was to show the importance of cultural regulations,” Mockus said.
Solutions like these work more often than people think. Ideas that represent radical departures from the control and punishment-oriented culture that our species has known for so long, actually offer an opportunity for true progress. Unfortunately, it seems that these types of solutions are only seriously considered when conditions are extremely desperate and people have nothing else to lose.
In the situation of Bogota, they had some of the most dangerous roads on the planet before they embarked on this radical experiment. This is very similar to the way that Portugal experimented with drug legalization when they were facing some of the worst overdose and addiction rates in the developed world.