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Study: Intersections With Blinking Lights Dangerous

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Four-way intersection sign

Four-way intersection sign.

Intersections with blinking lights are more than three times as dangerous as those with only stop signs, according to a University of Texas study announced on Monday. The study, which examines which types of intersections are most dangerous for drivers, was conducted by Cockrell School of Engineering Professor Chandra Bhat and his graduate students, Marisol Castro and Rajesh Paleti, using crash data collected by the Texas Department of Transportation.

This study is the first of its kind to comprehensively connect the cause-and-effect relationship among the car accidents at different intersections. Researchers hope their findings, which they will present at a Jan. 22-26 National Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, D.C., will lead to improved guidelines for the design and construction of safer intersections.

As Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

Roughly 40 percent of all traffic accidents take place at intersections, Bhat said. His study could not determine if flashing lights at intersections confused drivers or if traffic engineers have placed flashing lights at the most dangerous intersections.
Drivers exiting highways are also more likely to crash, either because they are going too fast or switching lanes in a dangerous manner.

According to a University of Texas press release:

One fatality occurs on U.S. roadways every 16 minutes, and the frequency of crashes typically increases over the holiday season. December and January are the months with the highest rates (per vehicle mile traveled) of traffic crashes, Bhat said.

The U of T article goes on to say that before this study, researchers in general had viewed intersection crashes as isolated events unrelated to the surrounding roadways. But Bhat explained why that is not correct.

“Improving just one intersection could have broader region-wide benefits,” Bhat said. “If you don’t account for this dependence, which is what almost all earlier studies have done, you underestimate the value of roadway and traffic control improvements.” The study found that intersections with traffic lights are the safest, except that once an accident begins at one of those, it can be more difficult to stop.

Image by MyNameMattersNot, used under its Creative Commons license.


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