There's an article on BBC News asking whether we could do without traffic lights
. I thought that could be an interesting article, but I lost faith after reading the first sentence:
We rely on traffic lights to tell us when to go. And when to stop. We should replace that with common sense, argues traffic campaigner Martin Cassini.
Ah, good old common sense. Except, it turns out, a lot of people seem to lack common sense. At times common sense seems to be an aspirational thing, like "I know I shouldn't run with scissors, but sometimes I need to do something quickly", other times it seems to be based on past experience (I went to school with a lovely and very intelligent girl that allegedly tried to cook baked beans on a tray in the oven, rather than heat them up in a saucepan like a normal person).
First, the statistics. The latest annual figures show there were 24,500 deaths or serious injuries on the roads in a year in the UK.
The numbers have been declining steadily but it seems to me that a traffic control system that presides over those sorts of figures is still getting something profoundly wrong.
The article doesn't attempt to determine how many of those deaths or serious injuries were caused by traffic lights, caused by bad driving (e.g. falling asleep at the wheel, or not driving slowly/appropriately in bad weather conditions) or something else like because of confusing road markings. I'm pretty sure that traffic lights rarely tell everyone to go at the same time, so my guess is that human error is the main cause.
There's also no attempt to compare the number of cars on the road or the average length of a journey. If the number of cars has remained the same and the length of the journey has gone up, then a decline in death/injuries suggests that something is getting better. Possibly driver awareness, more likely because of reduce speed limits in urban areas, and I suspect the main reason is that cars are slowly getting better at protecting the occupants during a crash.
As a driver, when you see a green light, are you watching the road? You're probably watching the light.
No, I'm pretty sure I'm looking at the light, at the road, at my rearview mirror, and taking in as much information as I can in order to improve my awareness.
Driving recently, I was about 20 yards away when lights changed to amber and I thought, shall I put my foot down and try to beat the amber.
I knew it would be a long wait at this set of lights.
Ah, now we're getting to the problem. People often try to bend the rules. People are selfish and impatient. People are stupid.
People think traffic lights are a guarantee of safety but the latest audit from Westminster City Council, for example, has shown that 44% of personal injury accidents occurred at traffic lights.
I don't think they guarantee safety. Does anything guarantee it? I'm not surprised that a large percentage of accidents occur at traffic lights. Traffic lights tend to be near junctions, where cars join, cars leave, and people cross the road. That sounds far more dangerous than a nice straight stretch of a motorway, especially if the slip roads are long.
That trial has gone permanent and the monitoring has shown that journey times fell by over half with no loss of safety.
So, one trial. I think I need to see more than just one trial.
As people have pointed out in the comments, traffic lights at pedestrian crossings are very beneficial (some might say essential) for visually impaired people.
Removing some traffic lights, or improving the timings, is definitely worth considering. Removing all of them everywhere doesn't sound very sensible. I suspect the author lacks common sense.
PS More proof that people lack common sense, it's amazing how often people try and fail to drive their car through a ford.