March 1, 2012

In our last post, we discussed a study underway at Oregon State University about what they call the dilemma zone. The zone is the brief stretch of road before an intersection. The dilemma for the driver is what to do when the traffic light turns yellow; the driver wonders, “Should I stop?” The right answer could be the difference between a collision with cross traffic or getting home safely.

The researchers haven’t much to show for their efforts so early in the project, but an Oregon State assistant professor of transportation engineering has offered a few suggestions about dealing with yellow lights.

How long do I have? As we mentioned in our last post, there are not standards for how long a yellow light will last. Generally, though, lights last between 3 seconds on low-speed roads and 6 seconds on higher-speed roads. It isn’t easy to predict, really, but the professor suggests keeping the range in mind and thinking fast.

How far is it? Because humans are not very good at judging speed and distance, the professor says, it’s a good idea for drivers to be aware of the cars directly in front of and behind their cars. If the car in front goes through the yellow light, chances are good the next car won’t have enough time before the light turns red.

The advice comes with a warning, though: If the car behind is coming too quickly, it may be a good idea to risk the yellow light just to avoid being rear-ended. The situation poses a dilemma within the dilemma, really, and the “right” answer depends on how fast each car is going.

Is it legal to run a yellow light? The answer here is, “It depends.” State laws differ. It is illegal to go through a yellow light in about half of them. Drivers should certainly know the law in their home states, and they should become familiar with the law in states they visit often or for extended periods of time. The scenario to be avoided is to go through a yellow light, crash into another car and get a ticket.

Much of the professor’s advice is common sense. If there is one thing drivers know for sure, though, it is that, in an accident or a near miss, the other guy has no common sense.

Source: Men’s Health, “Never Get in a Car Crash Again,” Paige Greenfield, March 21, 2012


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