Rules, Rule Violations, and Exposure to Risk: Observations on a National Laboratory Traffic Management System

April 12, 2013 - 12:00pm
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As scientists we start by defining questions that we hope to answer and it is often useful to explore model systems (we might narrowly focus on a certain material or on a certain type of disease agent, etc.) Here we are interested in workplace safety, and the traffic system contained in the LBNL campus forms a self-contained and well-defined microcosm well-suited for systematic inquiry. Traffic is a highly rule-regulated domain, so it is crucial to understand how rules and rule violations play out. We find that idiosyncrasies in the design of the LBNL traffic system generate conditions where breaking of laws that were designed for safety is widespread. In fact, these violations appear to be necessary precisely in order to keep our peers and ourselves safe as we operate in a system that is afflicted with significant flaws. This raises the possibility that our traffic enforcement program may generate unintended effects that raise our exposure to risk of serious traffic incidents, particularly collisions between cars and more vulnerable road users such as bicyclists and pedestrians. If rule enforcement raises risks then solutions may entail more thoughtful approaches to both the enforcement program and our system of rules.

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