In the May 2007 Discover magazine there is a short article titled “Urban Unplanning”. It describes how taking away street signs may actually make people drive more safely. The idea is based on the risk compensation effect. Here is a quote from the article:

“Basically, it means that animals tend to adjust their behavior to compensate for perceived risk. Applied to traffic, the idea is that people will drive more cautiously if they believe they are in a dangerous environment.”

The conclusion is that because of all the traffic lights and signs everywhere, people “feel safe” on the road and thus don’t pay as close of attention. If you remove lights and signs, people are more cautious. Therefore, there should be less accidents. Evidence in support of the risk compensation effect is that people riding bicycles who wear helmets tend to get into more accidents.

The article describes cities who are testing this theory by eliminating some signs and traffic lights.

“Since the program begin in 2004, accident rates at the town’s main intersection have dropped to only one per year from a previous nine-year average of just over eight, congestion has fallen by 20 percent, and journey time has been reduced by 10 minutes.”