17 January 2012

Why Traffic Laws?

According to a 2004 Texas Transportation Institute study, a mere extra second in a situation like this would reduce collisions by a very respectable average of 40 percent. It works both ways, too. Going from red to green, the extra yellow second gives us more time to figure out the intersection and observe roadside hazards. Going from green to red, it gives us more reaction time and thus reduces the running of red lights.
Hey, wait a second. If a measly second can really make that much difference, why do most traffic lights still feature yellow lights quicker than a roadrunner on speed? If a fix is this easy, wouldn't it be in everyone's best interest to implement it ASAP?
Well, no. Turns out, keeping yellow lights short and sweet equals big time dough. For cities using red light cameras, drivers running the lights represent a fairly substantial chunk of revenue. In Dallas, for instance, the cameras have been known to raise $700,000 in fines ... within a few months. For this reason, yellow traffic lights in such cities actually tend to be quietly calibrated even quicker than usual.

One piece of propaganda that is constantly drilled into young drivers’ heads as they sit through driver’s ed classes is that traffic laws exist to keep people safe.  This is a complete lie, as traffic laws actually exist for the sole purpose of giving the government another pretense for taxing people.

As the above quote demonstrates, if the government wanted to increase road safety, all they would have to do is extend the time of a yellow light for one second.  They don’t, though, because it is more profitable to give out tickets.  As such, the lesson to be learned from this is that the government can never be relied on to keep people safe; rather, it can only be counted on to collect taxes.

Further reading:  Government Incompetence Extends to Traffic Laws” (from my book The Early Years) and Traffic by Tom Vaderbilt.


  1. It's not just revenues. Game theory teaches us that people's reactions to changes in traffic policy is predictably different that what static models suggest. Drivers quickly become accustomed to the extra second and still try to beat the yellow. We see this all the time in states where there is a pronounced lag between the red and green lights. People approaching thet "New Red" know that they have a little more time to get through the intersection before the other traffic gets a green, so there is more running on a red, unless there is a noticable traffic camera box there. In other cases, traffic enforcement cameras at intersections lead to more accidents since drivers notice them and slam on breaks, leading following cars to adapt, often too slowly.

  2. @Prof. Hale- that's true as well. What's weird is how the claim that the government is actually acting for the benefit of the people is actually given credence in spite of the fact that traffic laws usually bring a large number of problems that are the direct result of this meddling.