Study: Shades of gray for driv­ers fac­ing yel­low lights

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

Driv­ers know that green means go, red means stop and yel­low of­ten means “Can I make it?” Al­though the law is clear that yel­low means slow down and pre­pare to stop, many driv­ers do not. New re­search sheds light on what fac­tors come into play when a driver de­cides to run those yel­lows, and it turns out it’s not just a mat­ter of speed.

Re­searchers from the Uni­ver­sity of Cincin­nati, funded by the Ohio Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, mon­i­tored four in­ter­sec­tions in sub­ur­ban ar­eas of Ohio, us­ing video cam­eras to track more than 1,500 driv­ers.

They found that cars trav­el­ing in right-hand lanes tended to go through yel­low lights, while those on the left did not. Truck­ers also tended to speed through yel­lows, as did driv­ers on streets with higher posted speed lim­its.

Not sur­pris­ingly, how long the light re­mains yel­low also mat­ters. (Yel­low-light times vary but typ­i­cally last about three to five sec­onds. Traf­fic en­gi­neers base the time on the av­er­age speed of the ve­hi­cles pass­ing through the in­ter­sec­tion.)

The longer the yel­low per­sists, the more likely it is that driv­ers will not stop, said Zhixia Li, an en­gi­neer­ing doc­toral stu­dent who worked on the study with his pro­fes­sor, Heng Wei.

In fact, Li said, with a long yel­low, “stop­ping is more dan­ger­ous,” be­cause other driv­ers are likely to keep go­ing through the yel­low, and some­one who opts to stop runs a greater risk of get­ting hit from be­hind.

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