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How LED Light Bulbs Could Help Yellow Lights (Stoplights)

Updated on June 3, 2011

Cursed ambiguous duration!

Agh, yellow!  I think I can make it... WAIT NO (slams brakes).
Agh, yellow! I think I can make it... WAIT NO (slams brakes).

Morton's fork

Morton's fork, if you've not heard the term.

Picture this: you're driving down a road where the speed limit is 45 to 50, and there are stoplights along the way. You're getting closer and closer to a green light, when suddenly the blasted thing turns yellow. Your first reaction may be to slow down, until you realize such a short stopping distance will wreak havoc on your breaks. On the other hand, since you've already let off the gas for a second or two you will now have to speed up to get through before the light turns red, and you still might end up running a red light!

I think this sweet spot (bitter though) combining speed, distance to the stoplight, and the mystery of just how long the light is going to be yellow could be removed with little difficulty. I've seen new LED light bulb walk/don't walk signs that include a timer, which makes it perfectly simple to gauge whether or not you need to walk faster. Since the first time I saw one of these I thought it was a fantastic improvement over the old simple flashing "Don't Walk".

Why not take this concept and apply it to traffic lights? Granted, it would only be usable with yellow lights, as they generally last a static amount of time based on the speed limit in which they reside. It wouldn't work for red or green lights because their duration is dynamic based on current traffic, but it would be perfect for removing the ambiguity surrounding yellow light duration!

Change the hand to a yellow filled circle and you have your yellow light timer!
Change the hand to a yellow filled circle and you have your yellow light timer!

Maybe it's just me

I don't know, maybe I'm the only one who is supremely annoyed when I misjudge a yellow light and end up either ravaging my car brakes or running a red light. The picture to the right is a great shot of the new timed walk/don't walk signs using LED light bulbs.

It's becoming more and more common that cities will retrofit their traffic lights with LEDs, so why not add this idea to the package? I'm no engineer, but it seems reasonable to conclude that the traffic fixture pictured to the right could be modified to be placed betwixt a red and green light to provide a yellow light timer.

LED light bulb technology and prices are improving every year. Perhaps I am naive to think this would be a relatively easy addition to an LED light bulb traffic light retrofit, but I can dream! This is one Morton's fork that can and should be averted.


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