Traffic lights were designed to organize the way in which people and cars utilize an intersection, reducing accidents and encouraging the flow of traffic. The city of Plano, Texas describes traffic lights as a tool that allows control over an intersection. However, many problems have been found in the traffic light system, from decreasing one type of accident while significantly increasing another to adding traffic to residential streets.
Increase in Accidents
According to the Ohio State Department of Transportation, traffic lights can “significantly increase” the number or rear-end collisions at an intersection. Rear-end collisions occur when one car stops and the vehicle behind him does not, colliding into the stopped car. The traffic signal works correctly for the car that actually stopped at the intersection. However, the second car either fails to recognize the stopped car or fails to stop at an appropriate distance to avoid the collision.
Traffic lights ensure vehicles proceed through the intersection in an orderly fashion. Before traffic lights, however, there was typically one street (out of the two that make up an intersection) that dominated. Once traffic lights were installed, the dominant street began to share equal time with its cross street. As a result, many areas began to experience congestion on one street during hours of heavy traffic, making traffic delays another disadvantage of traffic lights.
To avoid congestion, drivers will use alternative routes, usually residential streets. This is another disadvantage of traffic lights, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. As drivers cut through residential areas to avoid the congested stoplight, the congestion on those streets increases, especially when intersections are regulated by a yield or two-way stop sign. The overload causes premature wear on residential streets and inconveniences residents of the area.
Frustration with traffic lights is already high among drivers during hours of heavy congestion. Thus, a malfunctioning traffic light or one that stays on red for a few seconds longer than usual can often inflame drivers. The result is an increase in accidents from cars moving when the traffic light signals them to stop.