Top>Opinion>Traffic Signals in the Near Future:Universal Design of the Mechanism


Yasutake Komiya

KOMIYA, Yastake【profile

Traffic Signals in the Near Future:

Universal Design of the Mechanism

KOMIYA, Yastake
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Commercial law, corporation law, and capital market law

Read in Japanese

Setting up traffic signals vertically

When a traffic signal is set up horizontally, what color is on the right-hand side? In my town, I often see traffic signals with red on the far right. And it is difficult to determine if there is a traffic signal with red on the left side.

As it is said that upper and lower ends can be differentiated more easily than right and left sides, there are sufficient reasons for the Public Safety Commissions around the country to promote the vertical setting of traffic signals, not only in snowfall zones. Some people, however, might be concerned about the cost. So, I will add another reason for doing this.

If traffic signals are set up vertically and the top lamp is always predetermined to be red, people who have difficulty in differentiating between red and green would not make an incorrect judgment. It is easier to discern the difference between light-on and light-off than to discern the difference between colors. This can be regarded as a universal design.

Effort for being accepted by more people

However, there still exist cost-conscious people who do not accept that the majority should pay the costs for a negligible minority. I have heard that Ikuma Dan and Bill Clinton had red-green color blindness, and such people would always treat them as a negligible minority.

The notion of universal design is based on the idea that we do not ignore and neglect the societal solution to problems for people with difficulty in their everyday life on the grounds that they only account for a small part.[ⅰ] If traffic accidents were reduced by setting up traffic signals vertically, it would also be of benefit to people who do not have difficulty in their everyday life caused by color blindness. According to some reports, there are 3 million people who have color blindness leading to a difficulty in their day to day life. It is desirable to develop mechanisms that enable everyone including such people to drive more safely on public roads.

Now, let us take universality to a higher level.

Designing the examination system universally

Should functionally illiterate people be deprived of the possibility of obtaining a driver’s license? In Japan, today, getting a driver’s license requires passing a written (knowledge) examination that asks as many as 90 verbal questions. It is not true, however, that this is the only possible examination style to test someone’s understanding of the instructions on traffic methods created by the National Public Safety Commission. Oral examinations should also be able to achieve the same objective. It is good thing to design examination systems universally.

Logically, another potential solution would be to reduce the proportion of functionally illiterate people, which would be a reason for avoiding any modification of examination systems (i.e., a reason for doing nothing). In other words, some may argue that this is not a problem of the driver’s license system but of education. Functionally illiterate people are, however, not ones who were lazy in school but a group of disabled people. It would be better to give them a driver’s license, because it would improve their chance of getting a job.

Another expected reason for declining to modify the system is that a driver’s license should not be given to them because there are traffic regulation signs expressed in writing. Actually, this is the main topic of this article. Is writing really fundamental to traffic regulations?

I will discuss it as a story about the near future, so that the readers want to go on reading.

Technologies trigger institutional modification

“As a result of technological advancement, road traffic rules no longer rely on visual traffic signs. The vehicle communicates regulation signs on the road to the driver via voice guidance. This guidance also takes time regulations into consideration. To those who feel the voice guidance is annoying, I would recommend automatic driving. Heading in an entry-prohibited direction is also automatically restricted except in case of emergency. The speed regulations are implemented literally. School zones function literally, and the rule of parking prohibition is followed exactly. These are because they are rules established by the local Public Safety Commission for traffic safety. There are no rules that are not obeyed. I cannot believe that people were able to drive on public roads without abiding by rules in old Japan…”

…As seen from the above, removing character information from traffic regulations also removes the foundation of the restriction that prohibits functionally illiterate people from driving on public roads. This is also better for people with red and green color blindness. This is an activity of designing traffic regulations universally. Design does not only apply to tangible items.

Take institutions as our own issues

When technologies force us to obey regulations, whether or not we abide by them no longer matters.[ⅱ] Traffic police officers are released from work during which they inevitably stop thinking on the premise that people must comply with rules because they are rules or that rules are always right. People driving on public roads, including those police officers on the road, start thinking why such regulations have been established in the area or section in which they are driving. People who are going to drive on public roads will realize that the most important thing is the content of regulations they will follow and the procedure to introduce those regulations from the perspective of traffic safety, prevention of traffic accidents and reduction of traffic jams.

Are instructions and signs defined by the Public Safety Commission reasonable? If people start asking such questions continuously for each particular case, people who believe themselves normal will share issues with people who have difficulty in differentiating between red and green or who have functional illiteracy—the majority will begin seeing matters felt by the minority as their own issues.

While I have written the above as a story about the near future, I am intending to write something not limited to traffic signals and traffic regulations.

Modification should be improvement

In the past, today, and eternally, it is important to carry out activities for making mechanisms (institutions) more reasonable. Traffic signals should be modified, and traffic regulations should also be amended. Not only items but also invisible mechanisms should be modified. In particular, laws are a typical invisible mechanism expressed with words. Many people, however, do not feel laws to be an issue relating to themselves, and the amendment, abolishment or establishment of laws does not seem to have been designed universally.

If the legislative process is designed universally, anyone can (1) know the existence of a law, (2) understand the content of the law, and (3) be engaged in the rationality of the law, if they want to do so. This is nothing but democracy. While universally designed legislation is still undoubtedly in the stage of development, visualization of the legislative process has already started.[ⅲ][ⅳ] Under the concept that law is software for running society, fundamental changes will inevitably occur in the working style of bureaucrats, activities of interest groups and research activities in legal studies, as well as activities of the national and local parliament members.

Universities not teaching but thinking together

It is time to bring this article to a close. Whether or not this section is interpreted as a story about the near future, it does not matter.

If the legislative process is designed universally (for example, if it employs the method of social coding), the ways in which people learn laws will change. One is a study on activities of translating the social consensus into a more elaborate and less misleading law (i.e., writing a code). The other would be a study for activities of proposing better solutions and establishing specific options. As information itself can be easily retrieved from a terminal, human memory does not matter. What matters are specific solutions and the way to reach them.

Desired human resources would be those who can lead the process of clarifying differences among opinions, breaking down each prerequisite for each opinion and integrating them; those who can explore the foundation and correct irrationality; and those who have intellectual strength to abstract specific problems and return to specific solutions again. The significance of educational institutions related to law depends on whether or not they can provide training for such processes.

Probably, earnest students will not want to learn from a person who knows the answer. Instead, they want to learn with a person who thinks together with them.

Can organizations that depend on the status quo without the ability to change themselves attract people with whom students want to learn? If an organization only has novelty but gathers people who are unwilling to accept rationality, such an organization will have no significance. If various conditions based on which universities currently exist (a mechanism requiring the title of a university graduate) were to disappear, then people would not necessarily go to university or the legal department in a university.

In the past, Disney fired John Lasseter. And it took over 20 years until they employed him again. A 90-year-old animation unit may fall into crisis, but can revive again. An organization that is about 130 years old may be the same.

  1. ^I have heard that there is a proposal to enable shape-based differentiation by showing an X mark on the red lamp of a traffic signal. I have also heard about glasses for correcting color blindness. I do not intend to evaluate either of them negatively. The former is a proposal of universal design for driving on public roads, while the latter is an improvement for life as a whole, not limited to driving on public roads.
  2. ^If you feel more constrained in such a situation than today, it means that there are regulations you do not think about nor obey. Simply migrating the current regulations as they are would never make the situation more uncomfortable than today. It only means that we would be aware of regulations in more situations.
  3. ^新規ウィンドウ or新規ウィンドウ shown on新規ウィンドウ; or see新規ウィンドウ =新規ウィンドウ for the e-government in Estonia (pay attention to the protection of privacy in the case that the national government may be given access to information.)
  4. ^For cases in Japan, see, for example, Toshihiro Enami, “Legislative Explosion and Open Government: Proposal for ‘Open Coding’ in Legal Documents,” FRI Research Report No. 419 (March 2015) (the Economic Research Center, Fujitsu Research Institute), and Tokuyasu Kakuta and Ayumi Hisada, “Towards Computational Formalization of Laws and the Attached Forms in e-Legislation,” Nagoya University Journal of Law and Politics, No. 259, Nagoya University (December 2014), pp. 327–368.

The picture of a traffic signal comes from the website of Tateyama Driving School (the Public Relations Office, Chuo University)

KOMIYA, Yastake
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Commercial law, corporation law, and capital market law
KOMIYA, Yastake was born in Tokyo in 1969. He has been in his current position since 2009.
His latest paper is “Research Memorandum: There can be a limited liability company that run a hospital – Companies Act can support it, but Better Regulation will be more needed than ever - [Oboegaki: Jigyo no Kokyosei ni Kotaeru Kaishaho: Iryo wo Jigyo to suru kabusikikaisha wo Sotei site],” Chuo Law Review, Vol. 121, No. 7/8 (December 2014).