UT Researchers: Flashing Traffic Lights Increase Crashes

Green means go. Red, stop. Yellow, slow down. Figuring out the traffic light system isn’t rocket science, right?

It’s harder than it looks, says Cockrell School of Engineering professor Chandra Bhat. According to his research, when a traffic light is flashing red or yellow at an intersection, you’re three times as likely to get into an accident.

“Intersection and intersection-related crashes account for roughly 40 percent of all crashes,” said Bhat, who teamed up with UT students Marisol Castro and Rajesh Paleti on the study.

Why do people suddenly turn into poor drivers when faced with a flashing light instead of a stop sign? Bhat guesses that drivers aren’t sure how to respond. (The correct behavior: treat red flashing lights like a stop sign).

This first-of-its-kind study also emphasizes the increased danger of accidents at intersections with frontage roads. Drivers often don’t slow down enough as they exit freeways, or have to quickly switch lanes to enter the on-ramp, making these areas the most crash-prone in the nation.

Bhat’s research will be presented at the National Transportation Safety Board Meeting in Washington, D.C. from Jan 22-26, and comes at a great time for holiday travelers.

The frequency of car wrecks increases exponentially in December and January, when more drivers are heading home for the holidays. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were more than 262 traffic-related deaths in the three-day period around Christmas last year alone.

So if you’re hitting the road this holiday season, it wouldn’t hurt to tap the brakes when you’re headed towards a flashing-light intersection. Stay safe out there…

Photo courtesy Flickr user freakapotimus.


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