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Does this intersection need a light?

A busy intersection seems like an accident waiting to happen. You’d often see someone advocating for a light there, but is that the right choice? Not always.

Sometimes a light makes things worse

There have been multiple studies on the topic of road safety as it relates to traffic lights. While the intuitive stance is that a traffic light leads to better control and fewer accidents, it can have the opposite effect.

There are many reasons that this could be true, but foremost among the possibilities are:

  • Lights take away a person’s agency, leading them to follow lights and not pay attention to road conditions blindly.
  • Lights can lead to a higher congestion rate, which increases accidents
  • Traffic lights can malfunction

One study suggests that minimizing traffic interventions such as traffic lights can decrease traffic accidents by 35

What would a lightless traffic system look like?

While Wisconsin is not likely to implement a “less managed” traffic approach, some principles are already in effect. Increasingly authorities structure intersections as roundabouts or rotaries. And there is a greater emphasis on road design to encourage certain traffic flow over signage, lights and painted lines.

It’s not the traffic controls; it’s the drivers

In any case, it really isn’t up to the way the municipality controls traffic. It is up to the drivers on the road to drive safely. When they neglect that simple duty, you and your family may end up in an accident and under the weight of all the bills that come with it.

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