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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.

      • 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 ...

      • I think we should move to bladerunner type crossings. [].


        It'll be just like living in the future, without quite so much smog.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Don't leave the curb until you see the walk sign come one, don't enter the intersection unless the walk sign is on.

      So easy, even you could do it.

      • Yup. We tried to solve a "people are idiots and do stupid things" problem and in doing so, just revealed that a different group of people are also idiots who do stupid things.

        The basic idea behind non-countdown lights works pretty well if people actually follow it. Figure out how long it takes someone to walk across the street. Lets say it takes 30 seconds. Then, when the light goes green, you display the walk sign until 30 seconds before the light changes at which point you switch to a blinking don't

    • by Nyder ( 754090 )

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

      Doesn't work for us that have our music players on. Plus you got the noise of the traffic, so it would need to be loud, which probably would then be heard by the cars, mainly if they have their window down and no music playing.

      How about you use crappy LCD screens that you pretty much have to be in front of it to see, so the people in the cars would be at the wrong angle to see it?

  • 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.
    • Re:sound and sides (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:34AM (#47367579)

      A lot of crossing signs in the UK have metal boxes around the lights, and horizontal shutters to boot, so you can't really see the light from anything but ground level at the crossing point. I'm guessing it's largely a light pollution and confusion-reduction measure (e.g. you don't see the light for an adjacent crossing and mistake it for your own) but it means that the hardware's already available, probably as an off the shelf component, for some styles of light.

      • 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.

  • Since they can't hear, maybe they should use a flashing light, oh wait...
  • Driverless Cars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mfh ( 56 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:22AM (#47367487) Homepage Journal

    Computers will fix this kind of thing by default.

  • 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.
    • 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!

      • Re:OR (Score:4, Informative)

        by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @10:40AM (#47368539) Homepage Journal

        Because, in America, we threw out the old, broken notion of a one-hour road test and just give licenses out if you can show that you can operate a motor vehicle. The test is simple: Turn the car on. Activate the right turn signal, turn into a parking lot. Stop at stop sign by using brakes. Activate left turn signal, turn. Park. Unpark. Activate right turn signal, turn. Stop at stop sign, signal right, turn. Stop, engage parking brake, shut down engine. Congratulations: you passed your driver's test. You may now drive alone between the hours of 6am and midnight.

        Remember when we used to have Hydrostatic licenses because you didn't pass your driver's test on a manual transmission? We now let you get a license and go buy a manual car, even though you've never driven one, and drive it on the street. I did that, to the annoyance of everyone around me. My license wasn't stamped with a Hydrostatic restriction, so I could drive a car with a manual gear box despite only ever having driven with a hydrostatic torque converter.

        I have been lobbying heavily for stronger driving laws. I want to turn this place into semi-Germany, but that's a long way off; first, I want driver's education and licensing fixed. We can worry about lane control discipline, traffic calming, and stricter procedural laws later.

        Advanced driving courses teach vehicle dynamics, skid control, proper reactionary techniques to road hazards, proactive hazard evaluation, and so on; they cost $300 here, and you can go all the way to $1500 for driving/racing combined classes. Learner's permit should be 6-12 months with at least 5 hours per week of driving and 100 combined driving hours in a 6 month period or 200 combined driving hours in one year; a full license should involve a 1 hour road driving test and a half hour skidpan hazard course test. If the instructor doesn't think you're safe on the road, he can require another 12 hours of hazard and 50 hours of driving to re-apply.

        The cost of $300 for advanced driving and an hour and a half of time would be negligible. Your kid is going to need insurance; you can make him wait another 2-3 months for a driver's license, saving that $300/mo extra premium. If we pay the jackass at the DMV $100/hr, that's $150 more for the test--$450 one time to get your kid licensed. It's worth it. It's not even a real cost: we're essentially moving the age of licensing by a few months.

        I would also like to require re-licensing every 6 years. We get automatic renewals without passing any sort of paper or road test; that's bullshit, and I want you back on the hazard course in 5 years. If, at license renewal time, you haven't passed a hazard test some time in the past year, your license is suspended until you pass a hazard test.

        I dropped from 70mph to 20mph in one second today (good tires) because of other idiots on the road. I don't like running down construction workers, jackasses exiting their car into traffic, small children, or other drivers who can't fucking signal or look before they drive out in front of me; fortunately, I notice most of them before they do something stupid, and I react with precision when I fail my hazard checks.

        This is not superhuman reflex. When I check my mirrors, I pre-load all the safe places to maneuver into my brain stem and spine. When something happens, my body is already carrying out appropriate action before my brain has really decoded the message. That's how baseball players work. That's how lacrosse players work. It should damn well be how drivers work. That 99.99% of the time you spend cruising down the streets is unimportant; it's that ONE SECOND where you either flick the wheel or pulp some idiot on a skateboard that matters. The extremely low probability is significant because you'll be driving way longer than that, and the extremely high severity means this should be a primary risk focus, so why the hell aren't we hazard training our drivers?

    • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 )
        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.
      • Re:OR (Score:5, Interesting)

        by drerwk ( 695572 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @09:48AM (#47368065) Homepage

        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.

        SFPD claims to be keeping better stats these days but I could not find them online.
        However here is what I did find: []

        All three victims this year entered the crosswalk only after pushing a button to activate several flashing beacons to alert drivers to stop. There are six lanes of traffic across Sunset with an island in the middle. Thursday's crash occurred when several drivers stopped, but a Honda CRV kept going. The driver noticed the woman too late and skidded into her, clipping her with the front bumper and spinning her to the pavement. "She said she didn't see her, " San Franicsco Police Officer Gian Tozzini told KTVU. "I don't know how she didn't see the flashers. Maybe they're just looking forward and not paying attention."

        That is three victims, one fatally injured, at a single crosswalk with flashing lights in the Sunset. The description matches what I see in my little New England town where I'll slow because I see a deer stepping into the road and the car behind me thinks they need to pass me on a two lane road so as not to slow down at all - not sure how bad I'd feel other than for the deer. A pedestrian was hit in our crosswalk same way - one car stopped, person started walking, car behind did not even slow down and passed in the next lane hitting the person in the crosswalk - actually tossing them into the front window of another car that had also stopped on the other side for the pedestrian - that car was full of kids coming home from little league.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        " I was always taught to pay attention to my surroundings "
        but you don't. NO one does. There are moments and visual cues filled in by the brain they don't always reflect whats actually happening. You do not see everything in front of you, you see piece of it and your brain stitches it together.

        Plus, you can't stay focused on that 100% of the time.

        Since this is about car to car collision, I have no idea why you bring pedestrians up.
        haha, yes I do. You have an unjustified bias and your ego depends you bring i

    • 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.

      They do.

      Unfortunately, there is a countdown timer telling them the light will change to yellow in 4 seconds, so they know they need to speed up to make it through.

      I can't tell you how often I see cars racing to get through an amber light who actually enter the intersection after the light turns red.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        cars racing to get through an amber light who actually enter the intersection after the light turns red

        Not in my town. The cars that run the red lights are invariably the ones doing a consistent 5 to 10 MPH under the speed limit. But they stop for nothing (not pedestrians, busses, baby strollers).

        I don't think the countdown timers make a bit of difference to them. I don't think they can see past their hood ornament.

      • And then another one after that. You would think knowing exactly when the light would turn yellow would help drivers not behave like this. I certainly enjoy seeing the countdown timers to help avoid that split second decision of whether or not to slam on the brakes (especially with someone trying to run the yellow behind you). If red light cameras weren't so abused they might have been a good deterrent to this behaviour.
  • by fellip_nectar ( 777092 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:22AM (#47367491)
    The driver should only score half points...
  • Economy (Score:2, Funny)

    by Thanshin ( 1188877 )

    The solution is to create a system that makes it profitable to generate a system with 0 deaths and the shortest travel times from random points A to B.

    What the article speaks about is not the problem, it's the symptom. Just as giving the fines money to local governments shortens yellow lights, a system must be found that gives money to the best solution. Which should be easy, as we know how to identify the better solution among the existing ones.

    1 - Define rules of best solution.
    2 - Give money in direct

    • Please do not mix economy with finance. They are hardly related anymore.


      1. 1 - The market will solve it!
      2. 2 - The money goes to a newly formed group of big companies in bed with a bank (because this allows the bank to create money out of thin air). Off course, the bank demands "securities" (for what?) and society is heavily taxed.
      3. 3 - Problem solved. At least, on the low-traffic pacific island where the "investors" now live.
    • These people added a couple of critical steps that you left out.
      4. Measure results.
      5. Rinse and repeat (because perfection is desirable but unobtainable).

      More unintended consequences? - There's a TAC (road safety) billboard near where I live, it shows impossible physics []. It's basically the hypnotoad of road safety signs, extremely distracting the first couple of times you see one.

      Note that the link is about the campaign winning an advertising award, the guy handing out the award actually says - "
  • 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.

    • " for regular folks"

      Was not aware that I wasn't a regular folk. You learn something new every day.

  • 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.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Angles, son, consider angles. At 30-40 feet down the road, the shield is no impediment. And if it is, then it is sticking out into the perpendicular roadway.

  • Sacha Kapoor and Arvind Magesan, the authors of the paper, are economists. Slashdot: How Often Do Economists Commit Misconduct? []
    • Do you think that economists are incapable of analyzing trends? Or that they're so narrowly educated that they can't have any interest in anything outside of the field of economics and that accident rates have no economic impact?

      What's your point?

  • Cali... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bswarm ( 2540294 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:29AM (#47367545)
    In Ca, it's a ticket if a car enters a crosswalk while a pedestrian is using it, no matter if they're on the other side of the intersection or not. And the new walk signals have a visor around them so unless you're almost directly in front of it, you can't read it. They also started using audio signals, which beep and talk, for the blind.
  • by KingOfBLASH ( 620432 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:31AM (#47367561) Journal they try to fix human behavior via engineering, but people can't really be engineered.

    For example, in my home town we had a roundabout from hell. Five highways came into a loop via offramps. Literally once a week there would be an accident and once a month it was a fatal one.

    So some brilliant traffic engineers tried to solve the problem by creating off ramps for each other highway. At highway A you could choose to offramp to highway B, C, or D. But the "offramps" used the roundabout, which now had concrete dividers about curb height. The mayor, the local press, and local government kept trumpeting how many lives this would save.

    Well, turns out the only thing more dangerous then five highways going into a giant roundabout is five highways going into a roundabout with concrete dividers to slalom around. Accidents became a daily occurrence and fatalities went up.

    As it turns out, people are stupid. Sure, if you are new to town and take the time to slow down to read the sign, and drive carefully, you can figure out where you're going. But people zip in at highway speeds, apply the brakes quickly, and try to swerve over.

    The problem is not one of engineering, but one of behavior. Modifying the behavior (via police enforcement) would be more effective then a fancy solution.

    • Wish I had mod points, because this is the answer. A few years back the state I live in had a problem with drivers hitting, or almost hitting, road construction workers because they were speeding through construction zones. Their solution was to increase the penalties for speeding in a construction zone. Of course, they never considered the fact that there were rarely any police anywhere NEAR road construction zones, so the increased penalties had zero impact on the problem.
      • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

        The problem with this kind of approach is that it isn't properly applied.

        There is a large highway project going on near me. The work is all being done in the lane division area, with concrete barriers between it and the road. If you wanted to deliberately run a worker over you'd have a heck of a time coming up with a way to do it - it would probably involve reversing through entrance-ways and dodging parked cars to actually get at a person - maybe if you were literally driving in a tank you could get past

    • Not having five highways intersecting at one point would also solve the problem.

      Check out Spaghetti Junction [] in Birmingham, UK for a nightmare of a road design if you're not a local, and that's two "highways" (motorways) and two major roads (A-road). I can't imagine what your five highway junction looks like.
    • 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 digsbo ( 1292334 )
      You'd like to reconsider that in the way this Dutch traffic engineer made people smarter by making them uncomfortable: []
  • by Anonymous Coward

    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.

    • I dont know how much of an increase due to seat belts and other safety features was.... but fairs, carnivals, and amusement parks turned safe to collide vehicles into entertainment that involves people paying for the opportunity to colliding on purpose.
    • 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.

      Do you have any data to support this assertion? The data we do have clearly shows that highway fatalities have dropped DRAMATICALLY since seatbelt installation, and later use, became mandatory. In 1967 (the last year before all new cars were required to have seatbelts, the US had 5.26 traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled. Fifteen years later (by which time virtually all cars on the road had seatbelts, given the lifespan of a car), that rate was 2.58, or down more than 50%. Even if

  • Rather than accept that the latest fad has not helped and has other negative consequences, just like educatoin the powers that be instead wish to modify "tweak" "enahnce" the existing failure instead of reverting back to the original state and starting over.

    Go back to the original walk/do not walk and add "run". No timers so nobody knows quite how long it lasts. ...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When it is time to cross the crosswalk the underpants gnomes jump out and steal your underwear, they then run to the other side of the road and furiously wave them at you yelling "Come and get them you scaredy chicken!" Then they put the underpants on their head like a roosters comb and tuck their fists into their armpits to mimic a chicken walk. So you run across the road to beat the living daylights out of the gnome and the gnomes immediately toss your underpants into the air and they make a run to the n

  • Couldn't it also be the camera and senor light that usually accompany these? It my area they have put these everywhere and I would have to say they are a utter failure. For one they have increased traffic, making "catching the light" next to impossible on most roads. Second, they changed the cycle of the lights to where one direction has a green and the opposite will have a red with no indication to the motorist on the red light side, especially the ones pulling out of corner gas stations and stores, that o
  • One thing to note (and this is evil), often the red-light camera (RLC) intersections DON'T have the countdown timers.*** In Chicago, the RLC capital of the USA--with over 200 RLC intersections in the city alone, the vast majority don't have pedestrian countdown timers. In this city, revenue generation trumps pedestrian safety...

    ***As a driver, in my estimation, less than 10% of Chicago's RLC intersections have pedestrian countdown timers. To add, even in non-RLC intersections, the blinking "DON'T WALK"
  • Simple: install hydraulic bollards in the road timed to match the auto signals. Bollards at the crossing start/stop can be closely spaced or electrified to keep back pedestrians. Bollards at the stop line should be capable of stopping a 3T vehicle at 60MPH without damage, though a set of raised tire-spikes might be sufficient deterrent.

    • Simple: install hydraulic bollards in the road timed to match the auto signals. Bollards at the crossing start/stop can be closely spaced or electrified to keep back pedestrians. Bollards at the stop line should be capable of stopping a 3T vehicle at 60MPH without damage, though a set of raised tire-spikes might be sufficient deterrent.

      They have raising bollards to stop people entering some town centres (access only for busses, taxis and other licensed vehicles). Every so often some know wants thinks they c

  • In my city, there is a ~3 second difference between end of walk countdown and light going red, and light going green.
    Put another way, there is a time period for every light change where _all_ the lights at the crossing are red.
    Result: the yahoos trying to beat the red light are usually cleared through before a green light lets anyone else in to the intersection. (People run reds, but nobody appears to 'jump' green lights.)

  • Shared space (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hypotensive ( 2836435 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:55AM (#47367723)

    A better solution might be to remove the signals altogether. Several European towns have tried shared-space experiments where there are no signals or markings and the pedestrians and vehicle drivers have to actually watch out for each other. In all such experiments so far, traffic fatalities have dropped significantly.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by swb ( 14022 )

      You mean personal responsibility might actually work versus assuming that the "system" will protect you or guarantee your safety?

    • by joh ( 27088 )

      I came to suggest exactly this. Around where I live there's a place which was hell before. Bus lanes, an underground parking lot spewing out cars, several lanes of traffic, pedestrians and bicycles. It was actually the sheer impossibility of integrating cycling lanes into that mess that lead to a shared space approach: Everything was removed, no lanes, no signals, even the paving was changed to meld together with the surrounding area.

      Everybody drives MUCH slower now there (since arriving confuses the hell o

    • I've seen some of those schemes. They work for small areas where the road is designed to slow everybody to a crawl. On main arteries, not so much.

  • but for the opposite. I slow down when I see I can't make the light because I drive an old car with less than prefect brakes. But then I'm lucky enough to have a job where if I"m 5 minutes late twice a year I don't get fired...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The most dangerous place to cross a street is at an intersection. Pedestrians have to look in 4 different directions to be sure no cars are going to hit them. Drivers have to consider the same 4 directions. But if you walk across the street half way between intersections, then you only have to consider cars coming from TWO directions. I did the math, and that's half as many ways you have to look.

    As a pedestrian who nearly got hit recently (while crossing at an intersection, WITH a walk signal--and yes,

  • by GbrDead ( 702506 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @09:20AM (#47367891)

    Here in Bulgaria we have many (in fact, most) traffic lights with countdown timers for cars. Most don't even have timers for pedestrians. And these timers started to appear about ten years ago.
    I haven't heard of increased car crashes at intersections. My own observations also don't point in this direction. People are (or at least I am) using these timers as a more precise yellow light. And drivers in Bulgaria don't have to twist their necks in order to see them. Maybe this is the problem?

    Disclaimer: Bulgaria has a very high fatality rate on intercity roads. These are not related to traffic lights, though.

    • Drivers should use whatever information is out there to avoid accidents.

      I have seen leadfoots speed up when the count was low. Bad driving (excessive speed) is rewarded with more tickets and accidents leading to higher insurance rates . In light of this story, perhaps not enough tickets are being issued.

      I have seen bus drivers slow down in similar situations. Good driving benefits everyone.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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.

  • by ( 3412475 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @09:23AM (#47367911)

    In some areas of Portugal we have exactly the opposite - timers applied to traffic lights instead of crosswalks. In some places we also have crosswalk timers together with traffic light timers.

    Why is this a solution? Because drivers will stop paying attention to crosswalk timers and use their own traffic light timers instead, which have a security offset of 1-3 seconds. This not only makes standing at a traffic light much more dynamic and time-efficient (drivers will know how long they have to do imprudent things like fixing a rear glass, looking at the mirror, texting or picking something out of a glove box, with a high degree of safety), but it also prevents them from prematurely hitting the gas, as most drivers feel it is unsafe to go before the timer hits 0.

    Also, the timer works in both waiting for a green and waiting for a red. Yellow lights could be fully substituted by a red and green light only with a timer which would turn yellow on the last 1-3 seconds before a red. It would also prevent a lot of ambiguity in yellow light ticketing which is very common in urban areas and is reason for dispute between veteran drivers and over zealous traffic authorities.

  • subject (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @10:26AM (#47368403)

    Not all crashes are created equal. Simply stating "Crashes increased" means nothing. Scratched paint? Were they fatal? The perfect example are roundabouts. When they were introduced in the US years ago, the number of accidents in those intersections actually increased rather dramatically. People were up in arms, but then the statistitions came out and explained that while the number of accidents increased, they were on average far more minor incidents. Mostly side swipes and such. It was damned near impossible to get into a fatal car crash in a roundabout. Compare that with our old red light system where accidents are very often bad enough to total both cars and are frequenty fatal and suddenly that increase in total accidents doesn't seem so bad.

  • by vanyel ( 28049 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @02:48PM (#47370891) Journal

    When I first saw them appearing, the "unintended consequence" of drivers using them was immediately obvious and appreciated ;-) Such use is no excuse for an accident though - only an idiot doesn't make sure some other idiot isn't on a collision course before going into an intersection. It's as bad as the people suing the state of Oregon because an expansion joint on a curved overpass in the Portland area is a little uneven - cars hop a little going over it, but if you're not going way over the speed limit, it's not a problem and thousands of cars handle it every day. But a few idiots couldn't and now that it's made the news, here they come out of the woodwork.

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:38PM (#47372257)
    Really. US road design is stupid and traffic lights are cretinous. Sudden changes from green to yellow force drivers to make a split-second decisions and quite often drivers simply respond by pressing the pedal to the metal. And it makes sense - you save decision time by being consistent!

    About 5 years ago Belarus switched to LED traffic lights with clearly visible countdown timers for drivers. I.e. traffic light shows the number of seconds remaining for the green and red signals. Number of accidents went sharply _down_ exactly because drivers could anticipate the light switch.

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