Flashing Light Traffic Traps

I have one.  You have one.  Everyone has one.  Well, perhaps if you are from a very small town or live miles from any town, city, or metropolis.  Yes, I’m talking about that traffic light that turns green only long enough for one car to get through the intersection before turning red again.  I call these the flashing light traffic traps.  They are totally unpredictable, totally unreliable, and totally dangerous.

Mine is just down the street at the exit from the local high school.  Sometimes the light stays green long after all the cars have passed through the intersection and no additional cars are in sight while at the same time keeping people on the cross street stuck waiting for the light to change.  Other times, the light changes from green back to red before two cars already at the intersection can make it across the intersection.  As the third car in line slams on it’s breaks, I have to wonder how long it will be until someone not expecting such a ridiculously short light slams into the back of a car stopping at the quick change light.

So I have to ask, Is this short light a mistake?  Is a programming error in the sensors and timers that control the light?  Is it a way for the local police force to trap unsuspecting drivers who go through the red light?  Is it a coincidence that this light is right outside a high school with all of its young and less experienced drivers?  I have to say that this light has behaved like this for the last couple of years so I find it hard to believe that it is an accident.  But it is  really the accidents that I’m most worried about because I believe it is only a matter of time until hits a car that stopped as the light changed back to red or until someone not paying attention drives through the red because they were not expecting it to change so rapidly and they were not paying attention to the light because they did not expect it to change so quickly.

I’m very aware of these issues because thirteen years ago I was rear-ended at a different traffic light that changed red after only one car went through.  I stopped, but the truck behind me did not.  When the police came the driver of the truck readily admitted that they had not expected the light to change after only a single car made it through the intersection.  However, the police officer had no sympathy and said that it does not matter how long the light stays green.

My underlying question then has to be this, ‘Is there anyway for the public to report such issues to the local government agency responsible for maintaining the lights?’  Will it matter?  In some ways, this is no different than putting traffic cameras on corners and then shortening the length of the yellow light to make more drivers actually go through the red light because there is no way to stop before the intersection when the light first changes from green to yellow.  Now not all intersections with traffic cameras play this game, but enough shave off a second or two from the yellow light time just to augment the local municipality’s traffic ticket fine collections.  Again, the real problem here is not about the desire to control traffic, but the creation of a potentially unsafe traffic condition in which people have to decide between slamming on their brakes or risk a ticket by continuing through the intersection.

I suppose there is something to be said for driving defensively.  However, don’t take it to extremes either like the car I was following the other day that would slow down to about 25 mph at every intersection just on the outside chance that the light might turn red.  After all, in the last week alone I’ve seen drivers cut across three lanes of traffic to turn left from the far right hand lane.  I’ve seen motorcyclists weave down the expressway between cars moving at only about 30 mph in the evening rush hour traffic.  They even rode on the line between lanes to pass between cars.  Then there was the driver parked at the intersection with a map out trying to figure out where they were.  And don’t get me started about the drivers going down the expressway at 40 mph while everyone else is cruising at 60-70 mph because they are so focused on the cell phone conversation, they are not even aware that they are still driving.

Anyway, watch out for those flashing traffic lights, be safe, and keep reading here.  C’ya next time.



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