Have you ever been sitting in traffic and an idea suddenly occurs to you, and you think, “Gee, why didn’t I think of that before?” Of course you have—we all share the experience of that little a-ha moment, because that’s what sitting in traffic does to you. Except that I tend to think of things that might really help the situation at that moment on the road, right then. Here are seven of them:
Rear Amber Turn Signal Lights on ALL Vehicles
Have you ever noticed that you’re much more likely to notice a car’s rear turn signal blinking when its color is amber, not red? Well, it turns out it has scientifically been proven to be a factor in reducing crashes—even NHTSA published a report on this. In most countries outside the US, rear amber signal lights are mandatory, but America does not require them. Note to automakers: Please, please make rear turn signals amber. You can, and this little detail would actually help us all stay safer.
All-Ways Walk Intersections
I first encountered an all-ways walk crossing area at an especially busy intersection in downtown West Seattle, a vibrant place of local businesses, restaurants, a farmers market, and residential buildings. But instead of the usual traffic lights turning green and then vehicles and pedestrians jockeying for position to cross or turn into one another’s space, here was an incredibly simple, effective solution—a pedestrian light that lit up on all sides, accompanied by signs and a red light informing drivers that this was an all-ways walk signal and no turning was allowed. That way, all the pedestrians could cross from any direction and to anywhere they wanted to go, even diagonally, without fear of getting mowed over. And drivers benefitted too because they didn’t have to wait for pesky peds to cross before their timed light ran out. While all-ways walk crossings (sometimes awkwardly called “pedestrian scrambles“) aren’t suitable for every junction because of timing issues, they certainly would make the busiest intersections much safer and less stressful for everyone.
Reflective Tape on Electric Scooters
Speaking of not seeing things, electric scooters have become a bit of a scourge in many major cities. Although they can be super-handy for getting around more quickly than walking in congested urban areas, they have huge safety downsides. One of them is that they are very tiny, often painted black or in dark colors, and hard to see until you happen to spot one moving or swooping in front of you. Recently, when I was driving in San Francisco at night, I realized that I could not see them at all. And it really doesn’t help that their users often wear dark clothing head to toe. Once darkness falls, the only thing that makes one visible is a minuscule red light located at the very bottom of the riding platform, which seems to be about two inches off the ground. And that is WAY too small to be spotted, especially if you’re up high in an SUV or truck. These scooters need to be much better lit, or at the very least, scooter manufacturers should wrap reflective tape all the way around the platform and also have a couple of such bands around the steering column so that drivers have a fighting chance of seeing these little things at night.
Backside of Stop Signs a Contrasting Color
Speaking of visibility, I have come across another problem in San Francisco, which is home to literally thousands of 4-way stop-sign–controlled intersections, mostly in residential areas. The issue is that about 94 percent of these intersections have stop signs in all directions, but the remaining 6 percent do not—in other words, cross traffic from a certain direction doesn’t stop, and so out-of-towners (like tourists) and others not familiar with the area can easily miss this crucial detail. The backs of these stop signs are light gray, which can be really hard to see in fog, tree cover, rain, low light, and in visually “cluttered” situations. If you’re driving a vehicle and trying to figure out whether there really is a stop sign on the opposing corner while you’re approaching the intersection, you can often spot the sign only if you can swiftly discern that narrow slice of aluminum and a possible quarter view from a sufficient angle. Can we not make this so much of a struggle and require that the backs of these signs be a brighter, higher-contrast color that’s unique just to them? It would help drivers spot them so much easier—you can see what I mean in the picture above.
One of the biggest safety issues in recent years is that more pedestrians are getting hit by drivers, who tend to not think about peds and so fail to look for them. In recent months, I’ve noticed that in big cities like Seattle and San Francisco, the pedestrian walk signal light turns on a few seconds earlier than the green light for vehicles. This gives time for peds to start walking and enter the street, which makes them more visible to drivers, thus reminding them to wait instead of jumping the gun without looking. Called the Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI), this is ingenious. Really, in the US, we should outlaw turning right on a red light at the busiest intersections, but changing the timing of this walk light is a very, very simple adjustment for minimal cost that can truly save lives. We should adopt that as standard practice.
Different Horn Honks
Have you ever honked at someone to go ahead of you and then cringed because you didn’t want whoever you were honking at to take it the wrong way? With tinted vehicle windows, sometimes you can’t communicate secondarily through eye contact or even hand gestures from inside your vehicle, so your intentions can get lost. I wish there were two different kinds of honk tones with varying durations: one that’s a friendly honk to acknowledge the presence of someone and let them go ahead, and one that’s longer, deeper, and more resonate—a truly no-nonsense noise that says “STOP!!” or “What the hell are you doing?” (like if someone is about to back up or drive into you).
Navigation Software That Helps You Avoid Unprotected Left Turns
If you use any kind of navigation software while driving, you’ve probably had the experience of being routed to an intersection that forces you to make an unprotected left turn across a busy road when there’s a traffic light two blocks away. And if you’re extremely risk-averse like me, you let out a huge groan and think, “I won’t do this, and how do I get out of this pickle?” So, note to developers of any GPS or sat-nav software: Please build this as a standard option that lets me avoid these dangerous situations that are a pain to get out of. (And yes, I know that Waze does have an Avoid Difficult Intersections setting under its Navigation Preferences in some cities—yay!) But let’s make this available in Google Maps too and for all in-car nav systems too, please!
If you like any of these ideas or want to see them come into existence or get implemented in your part of the world, be an instrument of that change. Write to your community traffic planner or scooter/navigation provider, or even your favorite automakers. If enough of us chime in, change can happen. And it’s sometimes easier than you think—but it takes enough of us asking to get a movement going.
What ideas do you have? I’d love to hear them. You can comment directly on this post or email me at [email protected].