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Turning Off Traffic Lights

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AB Editor | 13:05 Wed 05th Jan 2011 | Motoring
21 Answers
It has been proposed that in certain areas councils should turn off their traffic lights at certain times of the day.

This is currently being tested in Ealing:

"The council hopes the move will see drivers learn to co-operate and cross junctions on a first come first served basis.

It came up with the idea after the lights failed one day at a busy junction and the traffic flowed more smoothly than before."

Source: Daily Mail

This poll is closed.

Do you think switching off traffic lights is a good idea?

  • Yes, but only at night when there is little traffic - 11 votes
  • 34%
  • Yes! Turn them off, they cause more congestion than they cure. - 8 votes
  • 25%
  • No! Traffic lights give order and ease congestion. - 7 votes
  • 22%
  • Yes, but only at non-peak times - 6 votes
  • 19%

See final stats

Stats until: 20:13 Mon 22nd Apr 2024 (Refreshed every 5 minutes)


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There may be certain combinations of conditions that will improve flow but generally lights are there for a reason. There are places where you'd never get past a junction without lights. B is effectively what we have now anyway, when there is no traffic about the lights stay in the default postition of green to the dominant flow anyone arrives on red and it changes quickly.
I've driven in a number of states in USA where there are few traffic lights. At cross roads vehicles approach the junction slowly and stop if there are other vehicles approaching from other directions. The person to stop first then assumes priority and goes straight ahead or turns left or right. The second to arrive is next to go, etc. This system seems to be rarely abused. What's more, residential areas are usually 20 mph and again this is observed to the extent that children are quite safe on their bikes.
Why not use the same system as Germany, during the day the lights are set for the regular traffic patterns to enable relatively free flowing traffic, after 8pm the majority of traffic lights are switched off just leaving the amber light on the minor road on a steady flashing sequence to warn drivers to give way at the junction ahead. Getting to work under normal traffic lights used to take me about half an hour if I was lucky and caught the lights right, if I got called out at night it would take less than ten minutes due to not having to wait for lights to change.
Turning them off at night would be awful round here, that's when the racers and people on bikes with no lights on are about.
Sounds like you are missing Germany househusband! they must seem so much more advanced than us backward Brits eh?
I hate it at night when I am forced to stop and wait for lights to change, when there is no traffic about. It's a waste of fuel for one thing.
For a short period, a few years ago at one of the traffic light junctions in St. Albans – during the night, the traffic lights were set to red at all four approaches. The lights would quickly change to green on sensing a car approaching from any direction (without having to first change to red in the other direction). The system appeared to work well, but it was only in operation for a short while. I guess the authorities received complaints from pedestrians, believing the lights to be faulty.
@Boxtops - I dont think the presence of traffic lights or any other type of signal will stop the boy racer brigade or the idiots who think you dont need lights at night on a bike.

@R1Geezer - try living in other countries and you may come to appreciate that some of the ideas they have are better than ours. I have never said the UK is backwards in anyway, that is just your narrow minded view. Funny how you dont have a go at McMouse over his comments about the "mighty"USA!!
We must have some of the most poorly disciplined, ignorant and selfish drivers on the road in the UK. I don't think turning off one of the few things that actually gives rise to some form of order on these roads is the way to go at all.

If the genesis of the idea is to be believed, then it goes to show how pathetic some councils are. There is a major road junction near me who's traffic light system used to fail all the time. So much so in fact that they just kept the "traffic lights out" signs near the light control box in wait for them to fail. Whenever they did, the junction was extremely dangerous. The traffic probably did flow more smoothly because it was constant instead of jarred and because drivers feared for their lives as they gingerly inched forward to see if others would let them go!

Councils are NOT observant. If they have trials like this based on random ideas then it just goes to prove it. Traffic light discipline is a rule of the road and a strictly enforced law for a reason; because it relates to safety. If you want to change this system, it should be changed with qualitative and quantifiable evidence to prove it's safety AND it's worth. Not just from noticing something one day.
@Mobius - I dont think anyone would turn off the lights of a busy junction if it induced a safety hazard, however by adopting a practice that has a proven track record in other countries at quieter times then where is the problem. How many times have you been stuck at a red light late at night with no other traffic in sight? Not all signal controlled junctions have adaptive programming as it is expensive to install and causes traffic disruption while fitting the required induction loops below the road surface. Fitting a timer system so the lights are only in operation when needed is a much cheaper option and also cuts down on power usage so saving money which is a high priority in the current climate.
bit of redundancy here - isnt option A part of C - nighttime being a non-peak time
-- answer removed --
@DT - I think the question author was trying to make it so that it could be just at night time or night time and off peak during the day.
well its an example of "noise" that can distort the answer profile - and typical of a non market researcher putting together a poll.
HouseHusban - What I'm saying is I don't agree they should be turning off traffic light systems unless they do their homework. How do they know which junctions are appropriate to turn off unless they turn them off? If an accident occurs at a junction that can then be reasonably attributed to a lack of a control system, who is then to blame? What if it's fatal?

All this is about motoring convenience at the cost of safety. If having traffic lights at a junction over a period of 10 years causes motorists millions of hours in delays, that is still worth it if having that control has, at some random point or by undocumented near miss, saved a person's life.

As for the cost, it's all about money. Motoring is massively expensive, as is road tax and council tax. I don't care if other, more technological ways of making adaptive systems is more expensive than just turning the things off, it's not worth the safety penalty. I also refuse to allow the fact that other country's policies being successful translate to it being the case on our roads. We drive differently, we have different attitudes to road use and separate research needs to be done here first. It should not be done on a whim, which is exactly what will happen and apparently already has.

My local council don't even have plastic wheelie bins, we just put bin bags at the side of the street. They say "they're currently trialing wheelie bins in certain areas". My mother has had a council wheelie bin for over a decade - they work. Why does my council need to trial something then that obviously works? It's because of money, wheelie bins cost money. So if they can't take data from other councils about things that don't relate to human safety, then they shouldn't be taking leafs out of other country's books which definitely do have safety issues relating to them. Especially if it's just a matter of money; which it always is.
well it was intended to be tongue in cheek, househusband, as this is the second thread where the Germans have been refererenced by you. You do force me to ask why you don't live there anymore? I have visited a lot of countries but I always look forward to when I land back in England, just me?
If you think our drivers are bad mobius, try india! We are a paragon of manners and ability in comparison!
there are practices we can learn from them and vica versa.

from the usa, the limit of 20mph in school zones at entry/exit time, coupled with a strict ban on mobiles and double fines for any traffic offence.

the traffic lights as described in Germany is not a bad idea and the US also uses this.

the other way around - stiffer driving tests in the USA as per the UK is just one example
I gather that for similar reasons of economy measures, the Irish have just announced that they will be going over to the European side of the road in 2015.

Cars will go across on the 1st of January and trucks 6 months later.
@ R1 - Sorry for taking your remark the wrong way, not having a good time at the moment. But that is not an excuse to vent my frustrations on others. My main reason for referencing Germany quite often is due to the fact that I served over there in the British Forces for over twelve years of my 22 years of service, so I have quite a knowledge of the workings of the country. I now enjoy being settled back in this country even with its short comings at times, however it is a better place to live than some of the places i have seen over the years.

Once again apologies for any offence I may have caused you.

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