3, 2, 1, Stop!

Alderman wants traffic lights to have countdowns

When you see a traffic light that's been standing green for a while, do you hover your foot above the brake pedal in preparation for a yellow light? Or do you floor it, hoping to pass the yellow light?

Would it make a difference if you know for certain how long that green light would last?

Many pedestrian crosswalks are equipped with a countdown clock, so people know just how long they have to cross the street. Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward) is hoping to have the same thing for drivers.

Beale has introduced an ordinance that would fit every accident-prone city intersection with a countdown timer.

"I've seen people slamming on the brakes when the light turns yellow to avoid getting a red-light ticket and getting rear-ended or close to rear-ended," Beale said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "If you had a countdown, that would give people a better gauge. You'd have enough time to decide whether you can make it through the intersection or whether it's better to just slow down."

But some people argue that timers would only create more accidents.

"When you see that thing at three seconds, you floor it," said Joe Schwieterman, a transportation professor and director of DePaul University's Institute of Metropolitan Development. "Your eyes focus on the countdown clock… [It] encourages risky behavior."

Not to mention, if motorists simply followed common sense, such timers would not be necessary. When approaching a green light, drivers should be prepared for it to turn yellow and should be traveling at a speed that allows them enough reaction time.

Schwieterman also thinks there are more important things to take care of first that would improve pedestrian and driver safety.

"We have serious problems with pedestrians using earplug equipment crossing streets without looking. We have serious pothole problems. We have a need for better traffic light synchronization to keep traffic moving. All of that seems like a higher priority," he said.

Matt Bartosik, former blogger of The Chicago Traveler and editor of Off the Rocks' next issue, always follows local traffic laws.

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