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Transportation Science

Unintended Consequences For Traffic Safety Feature 579

An anonymous reader writes: Traffic engineers had a problem to solve: too many pedestrians were getting hit by cars while using the crosswalks at intersections because they didn't know when the 'WALK' sign would change. Their solution was simple: implement a countdown timer. Countless cities have now adopted these timers, but it turns out to have an undesired consequence: motor vehicle crashes are actually increasing at intersections where the countdown timer is used. Researchers think this is because pedestrians aren't the only ones who see the timers. Drivers see them too, and it provides them with information on when the light will change. Then they anticipate the change by either speeding up to beat a change to red light, or anticipating a green light in order to get through before the pedestrians can move into the road. The researchers suggest finding some way to hide the countdown from the drivers, perhaps through the use of an audio countdown that would be difficult to hear from inside a car.
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Unintended Consequences For Traffic Safety Feature

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:14AM (#47367437)

    Please don't do an audio countdown. It doesn't work for us hard of hearing people.

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:21AM (#47367475)

    "Please don't do an audio countdown. It doesn't work for us hard of hearing people."

    Where I live, they have audio ticking for blind people. They make a ticking noise when it's green for pedestrians.
    Although some of them seem to be made for almost-deaf blind people, since it's very loud even during daytime.

  • sound and sides (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thaylin ( 555395 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:21AM (#47367479)
    Make angled sides on the signal to that you can only see it from like a +/- 5 degree angle, or less, and use sounds for the blind.
  • OR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Murdoch5 ( 1563847 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:22AM (#47367489)
    Drivers need to pay attention to the road, there is no excuse for hitting a pedestrian in a cross walk or for a car to hit car at a cross walk. Drivers need to grow up, pay attention and stop blaming everything but the lack of driving ability.
  • Audible warning (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dywolf ( 2673597 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:25AM (#47367511)

    In atlanta at least, the countdown is already accompanied by an audible chirp.
    Intended for blind or otherwise disabled folks (except deaf folks, naturally), it also serves as a cue for regular folks as well to hurry up on some of hte larger/wider intersections.

    Really all that should be fixed is to put a bigger gap between the countdown reaching 0 and the light actually changing. My experience with signal timing (and this is my trafic engineering schooling showing through) is roughly half-half: about half the intersections I saw with the countdown change immediately, others still have the standard 4-5 second "intersection clearance delay" between the countdown ending, and the light actually changing. The clearance delay exists for obvious reasons to put a delay between one side turning red and another green. It should simply also take the crosswalk into consideration as well as a best practice.

  • Simple solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:25AM (#47367513) Journal

    Put a small shield along the side of the timer so the drivers can't see the timer.

    I know, I know, the solution doesn't involve some convoluted, drawn out, highly technical, over-engineered process so it will never be implemented.

    Instead, we'll go out of our way to find the most convoluted, drawn out, highly technical, over-engineered, and expensive, solution and claim we're making progress.

  • Re:OR (Score:4, Insightful)

    by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:26AM (#47367525)

    That's a great solution, I wonder why nobody else has thought of that!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:36AM (#47367593)

    Before seatbelts people drove much more cautiously because they didn't want to be impaled by their steering column in a crash or tossed through their windshield to become stuck in a tree. Thus we introduce seatbelts and eventually legally require them for safety -- but what happened is car crashes skyrocketed because drivers felt safer while strapped in so everyone started driving more irresponsibly.

  • Re:OR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:39AM (#47367607)

    While you are 100% correct, I was always taught to pay attention to my surroundings ... and that includes keeping an eye out for a ton or two object moving at a decent speed.

    One could argue that in most cases, a pedestrian paying attention could have avoided getting ran over if they'd pulled their heads out of their phones long enough to look around them.

  • Re:OR (Score:3, Insightful)

    by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:59AM (#47367749)
    Without even reading the article I can grok that this is about vehicle-vehicle collisions increasing, by the fact that vehicle-pedestrian collisions are excluded by being the reason for the safety system in the first place.

    This is almost certainly about cars charging out into intersections to "beat the timer" and losing control, or cars stopping safely when they should, only to be rear-ended by some knob who looks at the timer and thinks the guy in front will try and the race the lights.
  • by twdorris ( 29395 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @09:11AM (#47367835)

    As it turns out, people are stupid.

    Truer words have never been spoken. People are stupid and you can't fix stupid. You'd think they'd weed themselves out eventually, but as it turns out, we're all people. And we're all stupid. We're just stupid at different times.

    I've nearly run into the back of someone at a stop light when they started rolling forward and then suddenly slammed on the brakes because they didn't see a car coming into the intersection. I was glancing around checking for traffic I might have been concerned with and nearly ran into the back of him because I just assumed he was going to continue rolling forward like the hundreds of others before him I had been behind at other intersections.

    A single moment of inattention and a single false assumption nearly caused a wreck. I was stupid. We're all stupid. We all need some engineered help against stupid from time to time. A sensor that detects an impending crash with something right in front of me would have helped. Lots of cars have these things now. That's an engineered solution to a moment of stupidity.

    Not everything can be fixed with engineered solutions, but we can't assume modifying behavior is a fix-all either. In fact, I would give behavior modification a far less chance of success given how random and clueless we meatbags are.

    So I vote for more engineered solutions, not less. But the solutions need to involved some human behavioral analysis as well. I mean who in their right minds couldn't have predicted that passing motorists would see these count down times and use them to speed through intersections? And who wouldn't have predicted that this would leave to an increase in accidents on average? Duh. That should have been taken into account and a different solution should have been investigated.

    All that said, I also feel like we need to define some acceptable limits here. I mean we can't go making every single intersection 100% secure. If some accidents are happening at an intersection, let's talk about the *rate* and decide if that's just an acceptable rate or not. The fact that there are accidents or that accidents are happening a little more often now than they were before is a little meaningless without numbers to compare to. I find that we have FAR, FAR too many laws and regulations trying to bring fatalities and liabilities and accidents to near zero already.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @09:21AM (#47367899)

    My town has been adding these countdown timers to most stop lights. They are fantastic for drivers. You can tell if you need to speed up or go ahead and break for the impending red light. I no longer have to slam my breaks for surprise yellow or red lights. I suspect once people learn to time their stops based on the clock, quick stop accidents and red light run accidents (much more serious) will actually decrease.

  • Re:sound and sides (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @09:58AM (#47368145)
    More unintended consequences: you cant see the signals from the cab of a truck! You also cannot see them from other important places. These things are often a hazard to safety.

    It is generally better to give drivers information than hide it.

    More importantly, drivers have to pass a test, pedestrians don't, and may be (often are) drunk, insane or just mildly stupid. There is no law against stupidity, and never will be - it would not be in the interests of politicians. Some politicans appear to be both drunk and insane. There may be a law against it, but it does not seem to deter them.

  • by macklin01 ( 760841 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @12:33PM (#47369535) Homepage

    I've encountered these, and I'm told they're pretty loud.

    I'm a fairly young guy (37 yo) with perfect hearing below about 1500 Hz, and almost zero hearing above 2000 Hz. To me, these loud clicks are tough to hear unless close up.

    I run into the same problem with high-pitched fire alarms (most of them), the "you left your headlights on" beep, seat belt beeps, kitchen timers, the little beep on my FasTrak transponder, etc.

    This is probably a widespread problem--we tend to lose hearing in the higher frequencies first. The solution isn't to use annoying high pitches and make them louder; the solution is to use broader frequencies or use lower pitches that more people can hear.

    Please keep this in mind when you're considering using a little chirpy piezoelectric in your next circuit project ...

  • Re:OR (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @02:55PM (#47370963) Homepage Journal

    No, my counter-argument was correct. If you can't acquire baseline driving skills, you are too dangerous to let on the road. There is no excuse for putting unsafe people in control of dangerous machinery and throwing them into complex situations they can't handle.

    If I attempted to teach someone to drive and, after months of training and practice, they could not identify hazards or react to complex situations, I would put them in a car and send them out into the city. Why? Because they're too stupid and genetically weak to be allowed to breed, and I'm certain they'll die soon in a vehicular collision.

    We give epileptic people licenses here. Outside my apartment in 2011, a black man crashed straight into a hydrant, traffic pole, and parked car after running a red light at an odd angle. He had a seizure, blacked out, and just cruised. He didn't know he was going to hit anything; he didn't even know he was driving.

    Your complaint about it being "inhuman" to ban people to drive cars is a bigger stretch than calling out the state for removing children from parents for so-called "child abuse" because the parents are swingers and have taught the child that sexual activity is fine as long as it's handled safely, and now the state is mad their 13 year old has been showing her new titties to 17 year old boys and sucking college guys' cocks. You would think it ludicrous for the state to not intervene on parents who raised their kids in such ways, I'm sure; but where is their right to parent as they see fit? Don't the parents have a right to decide that modern culture is actively harmful and abusive with its enforced puritan values?

    You see, sometimes, we have to decide that everyone can't be allowed to do things everyone else does. Felons can't have guns; child rapists can't be home schooling educators; and people who are wholly incapable of reacting to dangerous and complex hazards on the road can't have drivers' licenses.

    I've met people like you. You're exactly the people I've fought against in real life, the people I've threatened with the total destruction of their careers and livelihoods to stop. It took eight years of argument on the floor of the general assembly and finally a massive protest just outside to elevate vehicular manslaughter from a non-pointed moving violation (i.e. can't suspend your license) and a $50 fine to a crime carrying a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and $5000 fine.

    The law says we can lock your ass up if you are driving in a way in which a reasonable person would perceive would increase risk of injury or death to those around you *and* you manage to kill someone--and they choked on it for eight years because, well, sometimes drivers accidentally kill people while driving 40mph in a school zone with children at play, and we can't really punish them for that. But every politician has a name, a face, and an election term; and I can see Fox News from my house. Guess who's terms we're playing on?

  • Re:OR (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @03:05PM (#47371055) Homepage Journal

    It's not as hard as you think. I could convince the general public easily enough; it'd take a few weeks to structure a speech to push all the right buttons, but I can do it.

    By law, your designated polling location is within a mile of your residence. I can walk to mine. I can bicycle to mine. Maybe I could buy a skateboard. Are you people this helpless and stupid? I am surrounded by the poor, the downtrodden, the broken, and even they can do better than this.

    One problem I've faced repeatedly is everyone thinking everyone else is stupid. I work in IT, and IT people think *everyone*'s stupid. Accounting people are fucking useless and retarded. Yeah, okay, here's a clue: I've written an income statement before. You want to try? I'll get the camera; it'll be funny when you start crying. HR? You have no fucking clue. General management is not my thing; project management is my thing, and you would never make it. Hey, instead of complaining about your job as a tech support rep, why don't you try working it effectively and efficiently? Oh it can be done, and you'll soon realize this is not just doable, but insanely hard.

    I guarantee you, more people die from bad drivers every day than folks who wouldn't make it if we fixed the rules. Know how I know? First, because Germany does it, the Netherlands do it, England does it, and we've done it in the US before. Second, because the class of people who are actually that fucking retarded ARE RETARDS AND NEED SERVICE DOGS AND CONSTANT SUPERVISION, AND AREN'T ALLOWED TO DRIVE A CAR NOW ANYWAY!!! Look around you for a minute; people are idiots, but they're not *that* retarded.

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