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The legendary Dutch planner Hans Monderman—yes, like all fields, traffic engineering has its visionaries—turned his back on decades of received wisdom and designed streets in villages free of traffic signs, or with just a few of them. When you get to an intersection without the usual light or sign, you'll be supercareful; you'll take responsibility. Besides, since drivers often ignore traffic signs anyhow, if you can design a streetscape that makes a driver mindful of his or her environment, everybody will be safer. Such designs combine ingenuity and simplicity. Putting a child's bicycle on a curb is better than putting up a sign saying "Watch for Children."
A question that Vanderbilt asks (which occurs from time to time to the reader) is that if driving is such a risky proposition—so downright dangerous—why do people put up with the huge killing-field figures? After all, more than 4,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq, but 40,000 people are killed in traffic accidents in just one year in the United States. And it's a worldwide phenomenon: although statistics vary, up to 1.2 million people are estimated to die every year from all forms of traffic accidents. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, road "fatalities will be the world's third-leading cause of death."
What gives? Why do people tolerate it? Why aren't there marches? Protests? Vanderbilt suggests a couple of possible answers. First, people have trouble making sense of large numbers; psychological tests confirm this. Second, people die out of sight in traffic accidents, "dispersed in space and time." At the same time, we're abstractly aware that people die in accidents, so a death in one isn't a novel event. We're psychically numbed to the enormity of the problem.