/ Motoring

Do traffic lights make you see red?

Traffic lights at night

How often do you get stuck at a set of traffic lights that resolutely stay red even though there isn’t anyone else around? If you find this aggravating, you’re not alone – maybe there’s too many traffic lights on our streets?

A recent investigation by the RAC Foundation has revealed that the number of traffic lights in the UK climbed by 30% to more than 25,000 in the eight years between 2000 and 2008.

It criticizes this increase, and calls for local authorities to see if they can replace them with alternatives that will have a less detrimental effect on traffic flow, such as mini roundabouts.

That sounds like a very sensible suggestion to me – and it ties in with recent developments by other European countries. The town of Drachten in Holland, for example, found that removing the usual plethora of road furniture makes drivers more aware, and so more caring of pedestrians and other road users.

And to stop the frustration of vehicles being held at red lights late at night, a trial of ‘flashing amber’ lights has been put forward. An amber light would indicate that you have to slow down and be cautious, but that you needn’t stop without reason.

Not all of the RAC Foundation’s suggestions were as well considered though – cutting the time pedestrians have to cross at traffic lights from ten to six seconds isn’t practical. I work in London where this has already been trialed, and can confirm that the shorter time isn’t always enough to traverse a major junction.

Perhaps an increased use of countdown indicators for pedestrian crossings could be trialed instead? Whatever the alternative, adding more traffic lights to our roads certainly isn’t the answer. What do you think? And do you have any alternatives to help traffic flow and cut needless congestion?

Should more traffic lights be removed from our streets?

Yes - there are too many (51%, 225 Votes)

Maybe - some areas could benefit (33%, 147 Votes)

No - this would cause chaos (16%, 73 Votes)

Total Voters: 445

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Hmm, I’m not so sure that Holland is the best example of how to run traffic lights.
Having lived there and driven pretty much everywhere in the country, no traffic lights are sequenced in any way. In fact, my journeys across Holland were often so long, I ended up believing that they deliberately sequence them poorly so as to either a) make everyone think that Holland is bigger than it is or b) encourage more people to use the ridiculously overcrowded train system.

In urban residential areas though they have it right. No markings, no street furniture, barely any signs, just watch out for those cyclists, which I think is the point. Holland have so many cyclists (because it is flat) that it makes sense to remove all the clutter making it less of a risk to them and encouraging motorists to take greater care.

In terms of traffic lights, just go and see the Germans. I lived in Duesseldorf and if timed correctly, you could go right across the city in rush hour without stopping. 2 reasons for this 1) trams are everywhere in Duss and so you barely need a car 2) all traffic lights on main roads are sequenced so that if you stick to a 30 – 40 kmh limit, you barely need to stop.

Think of the fuel and brake pad savings.

In England there is absolutely no thought put into designing the infrastructure for new developments, they just add some more traffic lights, some poorly designed junctions and think that it will all just work.

Kirkstall Road in Leeds is possibly the most poorly designed road in the country. From the Inner Ring road all the way to Horsforth there are traffic lights all the way, punctuated by the most speed cameras I have ever seen and constant fluctuations between 1 and 2 lanes.

Leeds City Councils answer? Lets put a bus lane in it!!!!

fat sam says:
10 March 2011

I agree with Dean, in England – our lights seem to be put up by overweight men in fluorescent jackets who haven’t got a clue about traffic management.

Whilst I wouldn’t advocate a complete removal of lights I would be in favour of more part-time signals. I know it’s only a few seconds of waiting (or several minutes in some cases) the thing I find irritating about these ‘late night’ lights is the waste of fuel and the quick calculation of where I’d be (closer to my bed) than being stuck at a junction that nobody else is using.

It’s the ‘elf ‘n’ safety brigade all over. Hopefully, with all these cuts in local authority spending someone will see sense and reduce the weighty traffic light budget and actually allow everyone to proceed using that logic we once used to be so proud of over here – common sense.

Sophie Gilbert says:
11 March 2011

I hope and pray that traffic lights are going to be put up in some bad junctions in Edinburgh. I’m fed up with taking my life in my own hands every time I have to negotiate those dangerous junctions. Also, the technology exists to have “demand-actuated” (what a horrendous compound) traffic lights. If properly designed and adjusted they work a treat. Maybe we should have more of them


I agree with Sophie.

Far too many junctions in London are virtual death traps because there are NO traffic lights. Light controlled junctions are far safer. I really get fed up with those appalling drivers who ignore the sequence anyway and cross at any colour. Frankly I’d sooner wait for a traffic light to change to green than hope drivers will actually stop – Many don’t as it is not compulsory. I’m more interested in road safety than traffic flow – and I used to drive along Marylebone Road in central London daily. I have to wonder if a reason for lower accidents rates is the increase in traffic lights.

I have no objection with sequenced lights as on Marylebone Road as they do allow traffic to flow.

Mini roundabouts are not only death traps at night – but CAUSE traffic jams at high traffic density. There are many around where I live in London. The problem is the vast numbers of bad drivers. most of whom drive OVER them not around them.


Traffic lights can work efficiently if set up correctly and sequenced with nearby lights. With mini-roundabouts, confident drivers often ignore the rules and create stressful situations, particularly for novice and old drivers. No wonder that there are many accidents at mini-roundabouts.

It is obvious that some traffic lights are better than others. Information should be collected and used to bring the poor lights up to standard.


They are not “confident drivers” they are BAD drivers.


I meant to write ‘over-confident’ drivers. Timid drivers also cause problems at mini-roundabouts. Negotiating a mini-roundabout relies far too much on predicting the actions of others.


Correct about timid drivers. Too many treat mini-roundabouts (all roundabouts, in fact) as T-junctions. The idea is to anticipate and merge, allowing traffic to flow instead of grinding to a halt as it does at lights. Once you’ve stopped, you need a far bigger gap before you can get going again – the main reason for queues on the approach to them.


I not only drive over mini roundabouts but have been known to drive completely the wrong way round some of them. Ouch, that’ll upset the Daily Mail-reading brigade! I assess the situation at the time using this in-built tool that I possess. It’s called Common Sense. I wouldn’t say I’m a bad driver, maybe impatient unless one’s definition of a bad driver is 20 years of claim-free and point-free driving.