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New Lights Harness Human Intuition To Promote Safety

Aug. 19, 2010

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How many times do you drive on autopilot? We often drive the same routes in the same routine, stop at the same lights, and turn at the same streets. You could probably drive from work to your house almost without thinking about it--and if drivers are honest, we all probably make some of these trips with a lot more than traffic safety on our minds. So we drive home, are ready to turn left and---wait, what does that flashing yellow light mean?

Rick Charlton is the director of the city Traffic Services. In recent weeks, his team has installed lights with these new blinking yellow lights on intersections along Bosque Bouleveard and Martin Luther King Drive. It's newness can be confusing to people, who have to slow down to figure it out or read the signs above the lights. Says Charlton, that's part of the point.

Charlton used the word intuitive. Our intuition tells us to slow down when we see a yellow light. Green means go; yellow means slow down. The funny thing is, nothing has really changed, only the driver's perception. The changes were made for safety, first and foremost. The lights have proven popular in other communities for this purpose. But Rick Charlton says they also have other benefits. They improve on the current system in other ways, including cutting down on the amount of time a driver loses at a stoplight.

When asked if we can expect to see more of these flashing yellow lights in the future, Charlton respnded simply, "yes." The city of Waco website has more information about the new system, as well as opportunities of community feedback. For KWBU News, I'm Derek Smith.

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