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Do Traffic Lights Cause More Road Traffic Accidents?

We all presume that traffic lights make the roads safer. They are designed to remove human error and guarantee our safety.

Well, according to a recent article for the BBC magazine this could be a long way from the truth.

Martin Cassini, a correspondent from BBC Radio 4, has been arguing against the use of traffic lights for a number of years. In this recent article he argues that traffic lights in the UK are actually causing a large number of accidents and compensation claims.

To highlight his point he highlighted a recent report from the Westminster City Council which shows that 44% of personal injury accidents in that area occurred at a set of traffic lights. To further make his case for reform he also highlighted the fact that congestion, mostly caused by traffic lights, was responsible for costing the UK economy £20 billion each year.

Are Traffic Lights to Blame?

Traffic lights were brought in to manage rapidly rising traffic in Britain’s cities and towns. Most people would argue that they are now more essential than ever. Cassini’s argument is that traffic lights act as a distraction for motorists. The majority of the accidents which occur at traffic lights are caused by motorists watching the lights instead of what’s ahead of them. This often means that they crash into a motorist ahead of them who has failed to see the lights change, or worse, drive into a pedestrian who had not reached the other side of the road in time.

Thousands of Compensation Claims

This situation has led to thousands of car accident compensation claims across the UK. The question is, is there a viable alternative? Just removing all the traffic lights in the UK will cause far more accidents than already occur – wouldn’t it?

There have been studies which have experimented with removing traffic lights from some junctions. In these studies the lights were turned off and a give way system introduced for a trial period. In his article, Cassini highlighted one particular example near Bristol. Almost as soon as the traffic lights were turned off, the long queues which were usually a feature of that part of town completely disappeared. Traffic was running smoothly with no loss in safety. Subsequent monitoring has also confirmed that the removal of the traffic lights hasn’t caused any increase in accidents.

Clearly this revolutionary approach would only work in some select situations. However, it does suggest that the reforms that Cassini proposes might not be so ridiculous. If junctions can be made safer and congestion reduced at the same time, even if it’s only at a few junctions in each city, surely that’s a good thing?