The aim of this post is to show how your perspective on a problem can alter your approach to solving it.
Lets take water as an example.
You live in South Australia, the driest state in one of the driest continents in the world where there is constant water shortages.
You are having a shower, you find your brain works well in the shower, coming up with some of your best ideas, but your partner or parents complain that you are using up all the water. Let’s take the shower as the most zoomed in level.
Let’s zoom out a level to the bathroom. Out of the washing machine, toilet and hand basin your showers may very well be using up most of the water.
Zoom out again to the whole house. You might find that the garden getting watered through automatic sprinklers during summer might use more than your showering during summer, but that the bathroom in total uses more water than any other part of the house, including washing the dishes or having cooking and drinking water from the kitchen.
Zoom out to see a block of houses and you might find that the house with the biggest lawn might use more than the one with the most people.
Zoom out again and see a group of blocks and you might find that your previous findings vary, some blocks have houses with more people which use more water but on a water per person basis you might find that the richer the people the more water from the tap they use. For example they are more likely to have a pool in their backyard, however lower socio-economic classes might be more likely to drive to a community pool or the beach to enjoy their summer and are less likely to wash their car.
Zoom out further and you start to see some industrial areas, mainly factories, which on a per sq meter basis use a lot more water than residential areas. This would likely be a similar finding if you were to analyse the water usage from the reservoirs for standard tap water.
Zoom right out to the state basis and you find that whilst agricultural farming areas use less water per sq meter than factories or residential but there is simply so much more of it that they use up the vast majority of water. Although decent amounts of this come from the main river running through the state, or from underground aquifers. The problem is that the River Murray is running dry.
You could then zoom out again and look at the whole continent (of Australia in this example) and all the states and territories with which feed the River Murray and see that South Australia’s part of the River Murray is just the end of it and it is actually supplied water from three other states and that their agriculture and industries are taking more than their fair share.
If you wanted to reduce water usage at any of these levels you can see that your policies and tactics would change. It might however need a coordinated effort of water reductions in residential, industrial and agriculture with major reforms in other states (a very hard thing to do politically) in order to address the problem. If the water reservoirs are low then the approach will be different to the problem of there not being enough water in the river and these approaches will be different again if there is a desalination plant which can take up some of the slack or if the reservoirs can be filled with water from the river.
The same process can be applied to electricity. Changing every light bulb to LEDs (which are even better than compact fluros) might make only 2% reduction in overall electricity usage in the country, whilst shutting down a single aluminium smelter might make a 3% difference. But changing to renewable energy or zooming out to a global scale can change things yet again.
Note : These numbers are very inaccurate examples.
This advert against going a little bit faster has been playing in South Australia for a little while now. I basically never watch TV and yet I’ve seen it my share of times. But is it really effective?
This post isn’t likely to have any good stats, because it isn’t about that it’s about how our society is trying to patch the symptom instead of cure the problem(s).
So the concept of creeping over the speed limit is that it’s then harder to stop and if you were going to only just hit someone when driving your car and barely give them a bruise because you have been doing 5-10kms faster than the sign posted speed limit you are now going to break their leg or snap their neck or kill the baby they were carrying. Scary stuff.
But the advert doesn’t seem to work to me. It doesn’t work because the campaign just asks people to stop and tries to associate it with creepiness. I can almost imagine a room full of marketers being told that the latest crash figures indicate that the current biggest issue is people going a little bit faster, they were then given 3mins to come up with a campaign and the person who could talk the most passionately won.
But what was needed is to work out WHY people are creeping over the speed limit and how to solve the problem at the core, not to just add more social fear and pressure and try to scare people.
Here’s some reasons why I myself have creeped over the speedlimit or I think others might :
You are running late.
You are going down a hill and the car naturally speeds up.
You don’t know what the speed limit is. Which is especially bad when there’s no other cars around and you are driving somewhere new to you.
The traffic is bad.
The other cars around you are creeping over the speed limit and you are just following them (herd mentality).
It is safer or easier to briefly speed up (e.g to make room for the bus which wants to cross 3 lanes of traffic).
The music is blaring and making your heart race and maybe even causing your to adrenaline pump.
You are distracted e.g by a phone
You are distracted e.g rubber necking. Although most people slow down to perve on the girls, they might not notice the traffic lights and that they should be stopping.
So, looking at the above suggestions which are off the top of my head so probably somewhat inaccurate and very likely to be missing a whole heap of other reasons, lets target a couple of the reasons and work out how we would tackle them.
Running Late : This is usually a time management skill. You could probably subsidise the cost of smart phones with a calendar built-in and provide training on how to configure and use it properly and you would probably stop some of the lateness issues. The rest of people, like myself would probably need to go to some subsidised courses on time management. This would probably have a great net economic productivity increase and would be worth doing anyway, but YMMV.
Going Down a Hill : This is a law of physics, deal with it. Put up some signs along the footpath letting pedestrians know of the danger, although most who live near the bottom of a hill will likely know the problems. I shouldn’t need to say but putting a busy intersection at the bottom of a steep hill is probably a bad idea, what if someone’s brakes fail on the way down?
The other issue is speed cameras. Here in South Australia at least they don’t seem to put speed cameras where it is DANGEROUS to speed, instead they put them were you are LIKELY to speed. Two mostly different places, but the government gets a nice bundle of money through speeding fines so the bean counters are going to set higher and higher targets that the police have to reach. To get that many speeding fines in less and less time where are they going to have to spend their time? Certainly not where it does the public any good, but where it fills the coffers. NB : Please correct me if I’m wrong, I’d love to see some decent stats and analysis of this.
You Don’t Know what the Speed Limit Is : A number of years ago the state government changed the default speed limit from 60km/hr to 50km/hr. The idea is that people will be travelling slower so there will be less speeding. I’d love to see some stats to see if this made an improvement that was worth the investment. Those people who do 80km/hr in the suburbs are going to do that no matter what the speed limit is. Like DRM and excessive computer game/application protection the main people it hurts is the general consumer (or in this case, driver).
But one of the biggest issues for me is trying to determine what the speed limit is. Most main roads are 60km/hr but aren’t sign posted with the speed very well and I can easily turn a corner onto a road which feels even safer but I forget is actually 50km/hr but there’s rarely any 50km/hr signs. However as you get into the city they sign post the change from 60km/hr to 50km/hr.
Here’s how I would have done it to save all the confusion :
One way = 40km/hr
1 lane = 50km/hr
2 lanes = 60km/hr
3 lanes = 70km/hr
This makes it much much easier to determine what the speed limit should be. If there is a single lane for your way of traffic and a lane on the right for traffic going the other way then that’s 1 lane (one lane for you) and you can go 50km/hr.
When you look at it, 90% of the speed changes and signs follow this basic principle and it is very easy to sign post the changes when this isn’t the case. e.g when it’s 2 lanes but on the highway and you can do 110km/hr.
The Traffic is Bad : If you go through bumper to bumper traffic because of bad traffic signals which prioritise an empty lane then you are probably going to speed when you get to the other side to make up the time. You’ll also be incredibly frustrated. You left home when you should have, Google Maps told you how long it expected to take but instead of being 2mins early you are now going to be 15mins late. *RAGE*
One great option to help with this could be to get more data about traffic. Most people have a smart phone in their car. A phone capable of tracking your position and speed using GPS (and other location services), capable of transmitting to servers online and those servers could aggregate the data and help the traffic services tweak the light sequences and also let your route be adjusted as you are driving to bypass the bottlenecks. Also, EVERY bus should have such a system which lets you track their position whilst they are on-route so I know if the bus is going to leave in 3mins or is broken down and the next bus is 45mins away.
Other Cars : I’m not sure what to do about this, but I do know of studies where peer pressure can cause this to happen, but if just one other person shows the correct answer then you are much more likely to also do the correct thing. But it could also be that you just aren’t paying too much attention to your speed and are thinking of other things, that’s what usually happens to me.
Safer to speed up : Changing lanes can be dangerous, especially if you need to either change lanes to go around a parked car or slam on the breaks. Imagine this scenario, which happens quite a lot for me. You are driving along on the right hand lane (this is Australia so we drive on the left side of the road). There is is plenty of space in front of you (e.g 4 car lengths), to your left and a little behind you is a car who’s front bumper bar is about level with your rear wheels. About 0.9 car lengths behind you (in your lane) is another car.
The car on your left is in a pickle, it turns out there’s a car parked in his lane and he starts indicating right. He now either has to shove his foot on the break, or you can speed up slightly and the car behind you can slow down a tiny bit and he can nicely slot in.
Note : Because of the other cars which will also have to merge from the left lane into the right the car behind you can’t slow down too much to get the most efficient traffic flow. This is probably something that should be taught when you get your drivers license, but I don’t think it ever will because the thought of letting people go above the speed limit for any reason seems too scary for the powers that be.