Common sense ways to keep traffic flowing smoothly

by Mark Lee

I spend a lot of my driving time in the dark. Not the usual ‘Need to know’ kind of in the dark, but actual darkness. I’ve noticed a few things on the less crowded roads that could make a big difference to both road safety, the economy and even saving the planet.

My observations came about through sheer frustration and plain old-fashioned common sense, which, due to its almost complete absence, has to be the biggest oxymoron in the world.

So let’s deal with my frustrations: stop lights.

To be specific, the first set of stop lights in Lloydminster (it could be any city) that turn to red just as I approach them, then the next set and the next and the next…

During my time waiting for the green light, not one vehicle passed through the intersections, but the self proclaimed ‘New Trans-Canada Highway’ came to a grinding halt.

After the third set I tried a different method, hoping to hit a green light, but it made no difference whether I set off slowly and tried to coast to the next red light so that I never had to come to a stop, or raced through the gears trying to get through the next light before it turned to red. No matter how I did it, I hit a red light every time.

Now in this technological world there is no need for that at all, the stop light could be controlled by sensors so that the main route is always on green until a vehicle approaches the intersections on one of the side streets, then a sensor could trigger the lights to change.

It could even be linked so that if there are vehicles travelling on the main road, the side street stays on red until there is a gap in the through traffic.

The sensors could be on a timer, so that during busy periods, everyone has a fair crack of the whip, but during off-peak hours, the main road should always have priority.

Another method would be to turn off the stop lights altogether, have a flashing amber light for through traffic and a flashing red light on the side streets creating a two-way stop. Either method would keep traffic flow on the big road moving at highway speed.

This small step in just this one city would save thousands and thousands of gallons of fuel per year; it would keep everyone happy, there would be no losers.

Even though it never happened the last time I went through, the people approaching the intersections on the side streets must see a red light occasionally – sensor controlled lights would eliminate this too.

Drivers passing through would not only use less fuel, they would suffer less wear and tear on drivelines and brakes and the residents of the city would benefit from lower noise levels.

It is common sense to put a few sensors in, but call me a cynic, it won’t happen. Instead the city will get a bypass, costing millions. It may make life a bit easier for the inhabitants of the place, but the bypass will also take away customers from local businesses, so in that case, they win some, they lose some.

A few sensors and everyone could be a winner.

My next pearl of wisdom comes from my years of driving on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s another simple solution and I think it would make a huge contribution to road safety.

It relates to road markings, or rather the lack of road markings, especially at night and in inclement weather.

In Europe they use a reflective paint to make the road markings stand out and it really works well. No matter how dark the night may be, the reflective material in the paint is picked up by the headlamps of your vehicle.

This has many benefits, such as being able to concentrate on your driving, rather than straining to see your position on the road. It also allows you to judge speed easier on the open stretches as you have the lines going by as a point of reference; if they join up to make a continuous line, then it’s time to back out of it a bit!

I have saved the best until last: headlamp alignment. This is one thing that really drives me crazy. I have yet to see a vehicle that has a facility to adjust the angle of the headlamps.

It should definitely be standard on all pick-ups, as soon as they put anything in the box or tow anything, the headlamps are only good for searching the tree line for raccoons.

This is compounded by the annoying habit their drivers have of running with their spotlights on at all times, so you get four misaligned lights shining into your eyes, not just two.

Almost as bad as this are big trucks with poorly adjusted headlamps; they’re usually adjusted so that their beam goes directly into your eyes when they’re heading in the opposite direction or straight into your driver’s mirror when they’re passing you.

It’s a two-minute job to pull up to the side of a building and check the alignment of the headlamp beam and adjust them as necessary, yet it seems that every other truck has a driver that cannot be bothered.

I don’t understand it myself; a properly adjusted set of headlamps will give a much clearer view ahead, so even if these drivers don’t give a hoot about other road users, surely it’s in their own interest to be able to see what’s coming up in front of them?

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