California Drivers — Treated Like Children, Act Like Children

This morning, driving in to work, I was treated to a royal charlie-foxtrot unlike I’ve seen in a while. In Orange County (for those of you familiar with the area), the traffic signal at the corner of Moulton & El Toro malfunctioned. This is a big intersection, 3 lanes of traffic in all 4 directions, but you’d think that rational adults, entrusted with the responsibility of piloting multi-ton vehicles, would be able to navigate a situation like this.

But not really. It was bedlam. Cars determining which when and how to proceed based more on gut instinct than any sense of order. Nobody having any idea when it was even correct for them to proceed, so the tentative drivers crawling across an intersection and slowing everyone down. The whole process was completely unorganized, and ended up taking us far more time than it should.

Now, some of you would suggest that this scene is an indictment of anarchy or small government. After all, without the order imposed by traffic signals, wouldn’t this be occurring every day?

But the answer is no. I’ve seen other parts of the country where traffic signals aren’t as reliable, where there are more stop signs in general, and where things like a protected left-turn-lane don’t all have their own individual signals. Basically, these are places where drivers are not only trusted with the responsibility of piloting a vehicle, but they are given some additional ability to choose when it is and is not safe to proceed at a light.

Order doesn’t have to be imposed by a traffic light. Order can emerge from patterns of behavior, and eventually become so ingrained that if someone proceeds at a 4-way stop at the “wrong” time, people wonder why he’s such an idiot. In fact, most of society works this way, not as a result of top-down government-imposed order. However, when you have hand-held your citizens through every intersection in the metro area, and suddenly that order breaks down, they haven’t built up their own order and their own patterns of behavior, so it becomes every man for himself. You treat drivers like children, and then wonder why they fall over when the training wheels break.

This is a microcosm of what we see in society. When an area without much government interference undergoes a natural disaster, people step up and step in to help each other. People are used to having societal systems in parallel to those provided by the government, so when a disaster comes that is beyond the scope of the government to handle, they don’t fall apart. Yet when you look at a place with heavy-handed government interference (such as New Orleans), the failure of government and the evacuation of people who might otherwise step in to help cause society itself to break down.

Yet people use the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in order to argue for more government and against anarchy. They’re arguing that adult-age children, kept in dependence by the government, should suddenly start acting like responsible adults when government breaks down. It just doesn’t work that way. The problem with government today is that it encourages dependence from cradle to grave. That might be fine, if the government were able to deliver on their promises. But government is unreliable, and when you encourage dependence, you shouldn’t act surprised when your subjects can’t act independently.

  • js290

    Now, some of you would suggest that this scene is an indictment of anarchy or small government.

    For those casual readers who don’t know, anarchy and chaos, though frequently used interchangeably, are not the same thing.

    Also, apparently, a Dutch town has removed all traffic lights and signs in their town with much success.

  • Nick

    GREAT post Brad. You can see these differences without leaving my county (which for all practical purposes = the OKC metro area. Further out into the boonies you get, the less idiotic the drivers are.

  • T F Stern

    Traffic lights are wonderfull, when they are working properly. When a system fails at a major intersection such as you have described, it should be replaced, temporarily, by a police officer who would maintain an orderly flow of traffic. Golly and Gee Whiz; that’s what the police are supposed to do, serve the public.

    Just a thought from a retired cop who used to love working traffic as a means of serving the public.

  • VRB

    If the stop light fails and you treat the intersection as four way stop sign, how are three lane suppose to act unison. Couldn’t there be indecision if the person in the left lane want to make a left turn.

  • Nick

    we have three lane four way stops here in OKC.

  • Nick M


    I believe in that situation, you go one point of the cross at a time, in a counter clockwise fashion.