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The yellow light dilemma

It can happen at the most unsuspecting intersections. You are driving towards an intersection and the light suddenly changes from green to yellow. You must quickly decide between making an abrupt stop or trying to get through the intersection before the light changes to red.

Neither option is ideal. An abrupt stop means the person behind you may not be able to stop as fast and a rear-end collision could be the result. On the other hand, trying to beat the light could cause an accident from a different angle or receiving a traffic ticket.

Recently, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) started evaluating yellow light durations and their impact on traffic safety. Here's what you should know about what was discovered and how this information could impact driving and traffic safety.

What determines yellow light times?

Sometimes when approaching a yellow light it seems like you are being set up to fail. With only seconds to choose between two undesirable options, it appears that the people who determine the duration of the yellow light are somehow out to get you.

The biggest factor when determining when a light will change is the speed limit of the road. Typically, the faster the speed limit, the longer the light will remain yellow. Experts also try to consider the grade of the road since it can impact how much time is necessary to safely stop your vehicle as you approach an intersection.

Why the reconsideration?

The idea behind yellow lights is to warn drivers that soon it will not be safe to enter the intersection, not to trap people into running a red light (and getting a ticket). In practice, organizations such as ITE have taken notice that people must often choose between two less than desirable decisions, and these choices have led to collisions in intersections.

At some intersections, red-light cameras (or the fear they may exist) serve to make matters worse. The ITE is considering their findings for a proposal that could impact yellow light durations and their enforcement. 

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