7 Things That Seem Like a Good Idea

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 […]

7 Things That Seem Like a Good Idea

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.

Electric Scooter Red Light

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 a Stop Sign in San Francisco

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.

Pedestrian-Light Headstart
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.

Honking the Horn

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 miae@drivingintherealworld.com.

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Mi Ae Lipe

Mi Ae Lipe is a citizen advocate living near Seattle, Washington. She blogs on Driving in the Real World, Tweets daily driving news and tips at @DrivingReal, and writes a regular column on street driving for BMW CCA’s Roundel magazine. She frequently collaborates with government organizations, NGOs, and individuals. She and fellow citizen Mark Butcher are recipients of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 2017 Award for Public Service for their work in


  1. https://r.onmyway.com/rM725pxgy0 safe driving app which rewards you for not texting and driving! I love making money doing something I normally would while also saving lives.

  2. Years ago I read that one of the major delivery companies changed their routes to eliminate as many left turns as possible and saved time and money on fuel while dramatically reducing crashes. I started using the “3 rights = a left” whenever I could–so much less crash exposure, so much less stress. I believe that’s also a recommendation from some other organization–AAA? AARP?–for older drivers as reaction time slows.

    Back then I was driving. Now on my bike I have the nice option of converting to pedestrian and doing the “Copenhagen left”: Cross the intersection in my original direction of travel, then reposition and cross to make the left on the next signal. But if that’s a problem for some reason I go back to 3 rights = a left.

    A hearty “hear hear!” for elimination of right turns on red. Drivers are using them because they’re eager to get to their destination faster. That means they may not be looking for the people in the crosswalk, and with bigger vehicles it’s even harder for them to see someone who’s shorter or in a wheelchair.

    Walk signal timing in many places is still less time than the green light for drivers so we have little enough time to cross as it is. The timing is also set for people moving at an “average” walking pace. It doesn’t allow for having a disability, small child with you, anything that slows you below that average. A little more democratization of the intersection that values pedestrian time as well as driver time would save lives.

    • I always love to hear from you, Barb! Yes, I’d heard about the 3 right turns as well (UPS started this, I believe—https://bigthink.com/robby-berman/the-science-behind-why-ups-trucks-avoid-making-left-turns and https://www.businessinsider.com/ups-efficiency-secret-our-trucks-never-turn-left-2011-3).

      And many countries ban driver right turns on red precisely because of the danger it puts pedestrians in, but interestingly I have also heard a few arguments from people from those countries applauding the US efficiency in not making drivers wait, especially at quiet times.

      Still, I feel that, in the grand scheme of things, the few moments saved are not worth regularly taking the chance of hitting a ped or bicyclist because you’re hurrying. And a right-turn-on-red ban would also remove the pressure of drivers behind you honking impatiently because THEY think you’re being an idiot for not going (that has been happening a lot more lately, and that is super-annoying).

      And I hear you about the pedestrian crossing timing. I was recently in San Francisco in the Inner Richmond neighborhood, where about half of its population is Chinese. I watched an elderly, frail Chinese woman who was so hunched over that she could not look up and out in front of her try to cross Geary, a major four-lane boulevard. The light was timed about 26 seconds (unheard-of-generous by SF standards), but she was carrying groceries and her balance and gait were both so precarious that when the timer zeroed down and she still hadn’t quite made it to the other side, I just held my breath, hoping to God that some speeding driver wouldn’t blow through the fresh green light and hit this little slip of a woman, who could be so easily missed if a driver were distracted or just didn’t see her.

      There should be an “Extra Time” option that we could press on a Walk button, because adding even just 5 or 7 seconds would make a big difference. And if it were an option, that means just that—and then that extra time wouldn’t be mandatory for all the timed cycles all the time.

  3. Ha! Came here to say what Brother Chris has posted…
    With special emphasis on smart traffic lights! I will forward this to my local Rep.
    Dave Boone

    • This is terrific! Thank you for letting me know. And I wholeheartedly agree about the smart traffic lights. We could all use more smartness in our lives : )

  4. Great ideas all! I’d like to see a proliferation of “smart” traffic lights. It seems too often that main thoroughfares come to a stop for red lights with no cars tripping the light from the side streets. This requires many cars to sit idling for no reason other than a timed red light. Even better would be more traffic circles instead in 4 way intersections!

    • I agree with you, Chris, on the smart traffic lights. To add to that, I’d also like to see much more attention paid to the timing of traffic lights on dense urban thoroughfares. That is being done in some cities, but not nearly enough. It improves the traffic flow and also cuts down on unnecessary fuel usage and pollution-emitting idling. Thank you for commenting!

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