Countdown Timers Alert Motorists to Light ChangesDecember 4, 2017
For some drivers, a yellow traffic light is a signal to slow down in anticipation of a red light. Other drivers hit the gas pedal to avoid sitting at a red light. Unfortunately, if the motorist drives through a yellow light without knowing how much time is left before the light turns red, they can run through a red light, while traffic from the other direction has a green light. This can cause serious car accidents at busy intersections.
Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) suggest that traffic signal countdown timers, or TSCTs, may help prevent these accidents from happening by providing motorists with a countdown of how much time remains until a green, yellow, or red light changes color.
A TSCT is a clock that digitally displays the amount of time left before the light turns color. While TSCTs are used in nearly two dozen countries around the world, they are prohibited in the United States by the Department of Transportation. Crosswalk timers for pedestrians are permitted, but not TSCTs.
According to David Hurwitz, a Transportation Engineer Researcher at OSU’s College of Engineers, and corresponding author of the study, TSCTs are effective when used at fixed-time signals. However, he said, they may not be practical at actuated signals, where a traffic light changes only a few seconds after the decision to change is made.
Highlights from the Study
Fifty-five participants, ranging in age from 19 to 73, took part in the study, which took place in Oregon State’s driving simulator. Researchers used a green signal countdown timer, or GSCT, to count down the last 10 seconds of a green light. There was a total of 1,100 intersection interactions, half of which involved a GSCT.
When the countdown timer was present, researchers found that a driver in the “dilemma zone”—the area where the driver is unsure about whether to stop or keep driving when approaching a yellow light—was more likely to stop by an average of approximately 13 percent.
According to Hurwitz, the results of the study suggest that GSCTs have the potential to make intersections safer by providing valuable information to drivers. They also found that drivers were less likely to try to hit the gas and beat the light when countdown timers were present. Drivers who were caught in the dilemma zone were also more likely to slow down and stop. Hurwitz and his team of researchers believe that the overall results were consistent and statistically convincing.
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