Increase Road Safety: Abolish Traffic Lights?

We’ve all been there: sitting at a red light at an empty junction with no traffic visible from either direction just waiting patiently (or not so patiently, depending on your mood) for the lights to change.

Traffic Lights
Time to get rid of traffic lights? Image by Thinkstock

In those moments, the thought of ignoring the pointless stop signal can seem all too tempting as a victory of common sense over dogmatic law-abiding. But what about getting rid of traffic lights altogether, even on the busiest of roads? Sounds crazy right, not to mention unsafe?

Well that is just what is being suggested by road campaigner Martin Cassini, who argues that abolishing traffic lights would actually make us more considerate and safer drivers. While this sounds counter-intuitive, the reasoning behind it makes a surprising amount of sense when it’s explained in full.

Cassini’s main points are that the whole system of priority causes us to steam ahead when we have right way, regardless of how this affects the people around us – people trying to cross a busy road, for example.

When we come up to traffic lights, they become our main focus as we worry whether we’ll be fast enough to make it through on the green (or sneak through the amber) or have to wait if we get caught at the red, and this makes us drive more recklessly, whereas without lights, we would all drive more slowly, leading to a steadier and safer flow of traffic.

The theory has even been proven to work in practice following a trial in Portishead near Bristol, which has since become permanent. Just minutes after turning the lights off at a busy junction there, the queues disappeared and journey times fell by over a half with no loss of safety.

We have to say we like the sound of a road system designed around people rather than machines, but perhaps abolishing all traffic lights would be a tad too radical. We’d love to hear your thoughts!