Our Northwest

Yellow lights extended to reduce collisions

Friday, January 3, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

As red-light cameras become more common at intersections across the country, critics say that drivers are more likely to slam on their brakes and cause rear-end collisions.
   ABC News reports that some states are trying a new solution to reduce those collisions: extended yellow lights. Florida will increase the duration of its yellow lights by half a second before the end of 2015.
   The rationale is, longer yellow lights give drivers more cushion, making it less likely they’ll brake suddenly and cause a rear-end collision.
   Makes sense. But might the other side of the coin yield a riskier outcome?
   I’m thinking of those drivers who, seeing a yellow light, accelerate to make it through an intersection before the light changes. Might a longer yellow light give those risk-takers a broader interval in which to roll the dice? Might it tempt some to enter an intersection they otherwise would have stopped at?
   The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) believes a longer yellow light reduces crashes, with the greatest benefit realized when longer yellows team up with red-light cameras.
   What about the critics who cite a higher risk of rear-end crashes?
   “I would take the rear-end crash any day over a T-bone crash,” said Adrian Lund, IIHS president. Rear-end crashes tend to be less severe, while red-light runners often cause gruesome, fatal crashes. Red-light cameras cut fatal crashes by 24%, according to IIHS studies.
   IIHS found that the mere presence of cameras reduces red-light running by 40%.
   I believe that. Every Tuesday night, I drive beneath a red-light camera on my way home. I’m a safe driver to begin with, but now I exercise even greater caution after seeing that camera flash when cars belatedly scurry through the intersection.
   Just knowing that camera is there has raised my awareness. I watch my speed more closely and anticipate the light much sooner.
   That’s pretty much what safety experts advise: slow down, and prepare to stop.

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