Sunday, July 3, 2016

Killer Traffic Rules

I have to admit, I am trying to change the world here.  To no Avail, yes, but trying still.  Here is a recent letter I sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Granted, they are busy trying to find excuses for all the traffic deaths their stupid rules cause.  Yes, they do have the wonderful generic blame flame, "inattentive driving," but that doesn't really cut it with many who have had severe accidents when they were paying very close attention.  I could go on and on...  But instead, here is the letter...

Oh, and by the way, I NEVER got a reply of any kind from the NHTSA.

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Dear Highway Traffic Safety Administration Representative:

I am a retired behavioral psychologist who spent his career researching and teaching about human learning, performance optimization and signal-guided behavior.  I am writing today as a result of two traffic accidents that I recently witnessed.  I am motivated to write because both of these accidents had elements in common that can be easily addressed by simple changes in signage and or rules of the road.  The common theme of these and many accidents that repeatedly occur in what your agency terms “inattentive driving” situations is conflicts between the signals present in intersections and the drivers’ well established habits.  If we have learned anything in the human performance lab it is that when one uses the same signal to guide different actions, confusion and accidents arise.  When a factory worker sees a flashing yellow light that means “STOP” or “DON’T MOVE!” in one situation or setting, but which means “PROCEED WITH CAUTION” in another, accidents will eventually happen.  It is inevitable that the habit of proceeding with caution will eventually be invoked in the more dangerous setting resulting in equipment damage, injury or death.  This is why we standardize signals of all kinds.

Modern transportation is an industry just like any other heavy industry.  By now you may be wondering which specific signals I am talking about.  It is the standard red stop sign which is currently being used in most states in two completely different situations in which opposite actions are needed.  There is a third setting that is also affected by the rules governing stop-sign intersections that I will also address.  For each of these problems I will suggest simple and inexpensive fixes that will save lives.  Please do not dismiss these suggestions simply because they seem simple or because it is easier to attribute these accidents to “inattentive driving.”  While it is true that we can always blame the driver for every accident, it is also true that the driver works in a designed environment that we can arrange to make accidents less likely.  This is one such case.

The signal/action conflict I want to address first is that which arises in two-way stop intersections as a result of habitual actions that arise in four-way-stop intersections.  Put as simply as possible, in the four-way intersection the driver stops looks and goes.  Often this sequence occurs when oncoming traffic is approaching the intersection from a side street.  The driver stops, looks, sees oncoming traffic, then drives across the intersection feeling safe because he knows that the oncoming driver will stop when he reaches the intersection.  This situation establishes reactions that then arise in two-way stop intersections when a driver stops, sees oncoming traffic, then drives into the intersection.  How many deaths could be averted if we could only prevent these accidents?  The extremely simple solution to this problem is to make the two-way and four-way signs distinctly different.  While a simple color change, say make the four-way yellow and the two-way red which would be appropriate because the standard signals use yellow for caution and red for more extreme danger.  If the signs were different shapes, that would work as well.  There will be a learning curve if this change is implemented, but such learning is generally swift and does not engender the kind of confusion that causes accidents.

A related issue involves the rules governing rights of way in uncontrolled, four-way-stop and “traffic-circle” intersections.  The standard rule that as taught in all driver’s ed classes is that when two cars arrive at an uncontrolled or four-way-stop intersection the driver on the right has the right of way.  The standard rule at the traffic-circle is the opposite, the driver on the left has the right of way.  A great deal of confusion and resulting fender-bender accidents could be avoided if these rules were consistent.  The simplest change would be to give the driver on the left the right of way in all of these situations.  A related pedestrian problem arises in traffic circles when pedestrians try to cross from the drivers’ right side.  Since drivers who are approaching these intersections must look left to determine if they need to stop, pedestrians approaching from the right are in grave danger.  Pedestrian signals in traffic-circle intersections MUST ALWAYS instruct them to cross from the drivers’ left side even if this means they must go the “long way around.”  In other words, the pedestrian must follow the same rule as the driver and circle through the intersection from left to right.

So, in summary, the simple application of one of the best documented and commonly applied signal-control principles, “Do not use the same signal to guide different actions.” can save lives in two-way stop intersections.  And the clarification of and consistent use of right-of-way rules can save pedestrian lives in traffic-circle intersections and fenders in uncontrolled and four-way-stop intersections.  I believe that when these kinks are straightened out we will not only find that lives are saved, but that several sources of traffic congestion and frustration will be relieved as well.

Please reply to this correspondence so that I will know the work I have invested has, at least, received an audience.  If no reply, I will begin forwarding it or something more persuasive to my Senators and Congressmen.  If I get no action there, I will approach my state traffic authority in an attempt to begin implementing these strategies locally.    I believe that once we see how dramatically these simple changes improve safety and traffic flow, they will be broadly adopted.

Sincerely yours,

Raymond Reed Hardy, Ph. D.
Retired Professor of Psychology

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Slavery in the 21st Century

Slavery in the 21st Century

I am grateful for my freedom.  As an veteran of the war in Vietnam, I have benefitted from the sacrifices made by me and those made by uncountable men, women and children in recognized and celebrated battles as well as the myriad unrecognized and unsung battles fought by so many courageous Americans in an effort to secure this nation.  I know that I owe gratitude to many, many others in other countries as well, but for the sake of focus, I’ll keep this discussion more local.  So, anyway, even though as a retired man of comfortable means, I am more free than most Americans–free to pursue my interests and passions or to just sit around enjoying the grandchildren and the weather–I am still a slave to the fear of financial and/or medical ruin.  I remain, at least to some extent, a slave in the 21st century.  This is true for the vast majority, if not all of Americans and it is for the rest of the world as well.  Slavery is alive and well in 2016.

Let’s put a stop to it!

Do I really need to recite a million or billion ways in which we are all still slaves?  I mean it is easy to see that, as long as we must work to put food on our tables and a roof over our heads and clothing on our backs and medicine in our cabinets, we are a part of a forced-labor class of people.  But even we retirees are under the gun to “manage” our retirement accounts, pay our co-pays, mind the donut hole and keep an eye on politicians who want to “...take away our Social Security and Medicare benefits.”  And, did I mention, avoid being victimized by scam artists?  If there is anyone out there who honestly feels totally free to do anything they want to do at any and all times, they are rare birds indeed, and probably not fully sane.  Because, to feel that totally free would require a great deal of denial.  Even our wealthiest citizens must remain extremely vigilant lest their wealth be squandered or plundered.

But I don’t intend to depress us all with a full cataloging of all of the ways that we are enslaved.  Consider that to be your homework assignment as you prepare for the next phase of the effort to extricate yourself and the rest of humanity from this era of slavery.  No, what I intend here is just the opposite.  I intend here to underscore the true facts that make it possible, for the first time in history, for us all to become truly and absolutely FREE.

Fact #1

The primary fact that opens the door to our freedom is our population.

“WHAT?”  You say, but as you will see, having the minimum number of people to create a world of sufficient abundance to allow us to have total freedom is a primary pre-condition.

Fact #2

Universal, or near universal individual-to-individual communication.  Again the reader may scoff.  How can this be a pre-requisite for MY freedom?

Fact #3

Universal, or near universal omniscience.  Now, now, calm down.  I’m not talking God-like omniscience.  We don’t need to know EVERYTHING in order to get out from under the yoke of slavery, but we need to achieve a world where secrecy, treachery, dishonesty, and hiding stuff--like money and wrong-doing-- in the shadows, is less and less a possibility.

Fact #4

Universal, or near universal trust.  This is really a psychological skill that can be strengthened with exercise regardless of the individual’s circumstances, but it comes more easily when the Fact #3 condition is met.

Fact #5

Compensated human effort is no longer required.  We can produce everything we need to stay healthy and happy by implementing a communication-facilitated synergy between what is needed and human volunteers coupled with technological assistants.  

Fact #6

We may all need to “work” for a brief period in our young or middle adulthood, at least early in the transition from a slave-based economy to a freedom-based economy.

This entire notion is based on the idea that, in a world where we have technologies to assist us in almost every endeavor, fewer and fewer of us will have to do things that we would not otherwise do in order to create the products we all need like: food, clean water, comfortable housing, medicines, and medical care that includes dental and optical health.  Initially, we will rely on volunteers who will work short-hour weeks based on an altruistic desire to be of service to the community, but soon even that will be unnecessary.  While it will always be possible to do things that serve the community, it will soon not be “necessary.”   In other words, the basic needs of the community will be met by the efforts of technological assistants combined with the work of folks who do the work simply “for the fun of it.”

For example, at first we will need folks to help with farming.  They will work with the machines, or help set up irrigation systems, or even hand-pick fruit and vegetable crops for which robots have not yet been developed.  It will be hard work but, for the most part, done on a short day and a short week.  So, in the beginning, one might work two or three two- to four-hour shifts two or three days each week during the growing season.  Or one might work intermittently as the crops demand.  Flexible scheduling would be a basic feature to allow for maximal freedom.  But, after a time, only those who wish to pick the fruit or set up drip irrigation systems or drive the big combines will be needed.  The message will go out to the nearby community that the berries are ready for picking and people and children will come and pick them.  The message will go out that a driver is needed for the newest mega-hyper-drive pick 20-tons-a-minute, harvester and 20 young men and women will show up for training.  They will compete for the opportunity to drive the machine.

Here is how I believe this transition will happen.

Here in America and the other industrial countries like China, South Korea, India, Australia and the European Union, the need to find a way to provide a living income to working-age citizens will become critical before 2020.  We in America are fortunate in that the political, economic and social mechanisms for addressing that need are already in place.  I am referring to our universal income and medical care programs; Social Security and Medicare.  Given that these systems are already up and running the political actions needed to adapt them for our shrinking work force may be less demanding.  We need only gradually lower the age of eligibility for both programs while at the same time extending free or very inexpensive higher education opportunities with increasing emphasis on  programs that promote personal development as well as appreciation for esthetic endeavors.

Only time will tell how these transitions will happen in other parts of the world economy, but it seems certain that once one country begins the phase- out of slave labor, the rest will follow.  As this process progresses, it seems likely that the need for an economic points system like money will fall away.  With the advent of a universal basic income, truly universal affordable housing, food, clothing and medical care it will not be long before folks recognize that the income part is an unneeded and unwelcome holdover from our primitive slavery-based economic systems.  When all we need is available in abundance, when no one need fear going hungry or being without a place to live or needed dental or medical care, who will want to hoard wealth?

The only question is, will all of this take place under Hillary Clinton’s first term, or will it require a second term?

The author of this article is Raymond Reed Hardy, Ph.D.,  a retired Professor of psychology and a lifetime member of The Mankind Project ( who volunteers at UWGB’s Mauthe Ecumenical Center for Social Justice.