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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Countdown timers at traffic lights could ease flow, reduce accidents, traffic experts say

Red-light timers allow drivers to prepare and could also have environmental benefits if motorists switch off their engines.
Countdown timers for vehicles, like those used at pedestrian crossings in Abu Dhabi, could improve traffic flow. Silvia Razgova / The National
Countdown timers for vehicles, like those used at pedestrian crossings in Abu Dhabi, could improve traffic flow. Silvia Razgova / The National

ABU DHABI // Countdown timers at red lights warning drivers how much time is left before the light changes can help to ease traffic flow, residents and road safety experts say.

But motorists are being urged to slow down as they approach traffic lights and junctions and to avoid speeding when lights turn from green to amber.

Countdown timers at red lights would inform drivers how much time remained before the light turned green, while timers at green lights would tell drivers how much time was left before the light turned red.

Red-light timers allow drivers to prepare and could also have environmental benefits if motorists switch off their engines.

V P Naushad, 52, who has lived and worked in Abu Dhabi for 23 years, said he would like to see timers installed at Abu Dhabi’s traffic junctions.

“People tend to increase their speed when approaching a junction, especially the one on Electra and Najda streets,” he said. “A timer can help drivers decide whether or not to pass through the green lights. If the timer shows I’ve got four seconds left before the lights turn red, I know I will not reach the junction in time, so I need to slow down.”

At 5pm on Wednesday evening, Ibrahim Mattathvalppil, 34, crossed the street from NMC Hospital at the Muroor and Electra junction. The pedestrian signals have digital timers that display how many seconds pedestrians have to cross the road.

“We feel safe because of these timers,” he said. “Accidents could be avoided if timers were installed at traffic signals.”

Pedestrian countdown timers are frequently available at newer signal installations in Abu Dhabi. They are visible to drivers who can also use them to gauge how much green time is left, said Glenn Havinoviski, a transport expert in Abu Dhabi.

“These timers are commonly used in the US,” he said. “However, they are mounted optimally so they are visible to pedestrians, not to drivers.”

Research in Shanghai, China, showed the potential benefits relative to traffic flow and safety because timers, particularly for green lights, provide some estimate of the signal transition.

However, field observations have shown that drivers accelerate through the intersection at the end of the green cycle even when the countdown time may be less than two seconds.

“In an environment such as Abu Dhabi, care needs to be taken to make sure some drivers do not use the countdown timer to see if they can ‘beat the clock’,” Mr Havinoviski said.

Research recommends the use of red-light countdown timers, which UAE authorities could look into, said Thomas Edelmann, founder of Road Safety UAE.

Studies also show that while timers at red lights have helped to reduce the number of traffic accidents by half, twice as many accidents have occurred when timers were installed at green lights.

Moving drivers try to rush through the intersection, while stopped drivers show more patience before speeding out into the intersection.

The issue of distracted driving should also be addressed. When motorists decide to pass through a green light, they tend to focus more on the countdown time as opposed to what is happening on the road, especially during the last seconds of the green phase.

“Flashing green lights are sufficient compared to green light timers,” Mr Edelmann said. “Ultimately, technology can only do so much.”

In the first eight months of the year, jumping a red light caused 406 of the 4,602 traffic-related injuries in the UAE. It was the second-leading cause of injuries, next to tailgating, which was responsible for 576 injuries, Ministry of Interior statistics show.

“It’s all about respecting traffic laws and showing a caring attitude for each other,” Mr Edelmann said.

“It all starts with ourselves: why do we jump red lights? Why do we speed? Why do we drive recklessly?”

rruiz@thenational.ae