A Typical Government Response

Following a tragic bus accident over the weekend, Georgia has announced it will rework several highway exits to make them “safer.” The new measures, the AP reports, will include “adding signs and adding reflective striping to seven similar ramps starting Wednesday.” Additional studies are planned. But, as Georgia’s own state highway boss admits, there’s no evidence that any of this will work or would have prevented the accident.

Still it’s an important issue. Perhaps because it’s such an unsexy topic, we don’t pay enough attention to the enormous number of people who die each year on our roads. In the best cases, good government-run agencies have made things better. The California Highway Patrol’s Corridor Safety Program, for example, saved lots of lives.

But I’m wondering if there might be a place to privatize certain aspects of traffic control administration, particularly along freeways. Police, even state police, like to focus on fighting crime and arresting bad guys. They should. For good reasons, California’s example hasn’t spread.

Right now, we’re still in the dark ages on traffic control. Although virtually all American cities see more traffic deaths than murders, we pay far less attention to them. In police agencies, hardly anyone really likes working traffic. The few police officers I know who really like writing tickets are also real jerks. Passive semi-private operations like red light cameras tend to annoy the public and produce few clear safety benefits. (Red light cameras appear to increase rear-end collisions.

What about looking for ways we can privatize traffic safety in a broader sense? Let contracters maintain and improve traffic control devices and suggest patrol deployments along stretches of highway. Reward companies that manage to reduce deaths and accidents. Unlike far-out libertarian proposals to privatize policing as a whole, this doesn’t involve private companies running around and arresting people. Heck, it could even work.