Monday, September 8, 2014

Traffic Light Speculation

I’m pretty good at spinning fiction on the fly. I’m not bragging about being an amazing liar, but rather saying that I enjoy coming up with plausible reasons for the behavior of others, such as: “Maybe she wore those six inch banana yellow heels because she needed the height so that her dress wouldn’t drag on the floor and figured that its length would cover them up.” My husband is hardly ever curious enough about the thought processes of others to formulate theories, and so I was surprised last week on our way home from our Labor Day vacation when he explained why another motorist ran a red light.
The intersection at 17th and O Street is not the place to blast through a very very red light. 17th isn’t as busy as O, but it’s got a fair amount of traffic. That’s why I was baffled when a guy in a red car just nonchalantly zipped through the intersection down O Street. “What’s his problem?” I asked rhetorically, as I watched the several other cars that had been going down 17th Street carefully avoid him.
“He’s probably color blind,” my husband explained immediately. “The lights in this city are horizontal, and he’s probably from out of town.”
I stared at him. “What?
“If he’s color blind and from out of town, there’s no way for him to know whether the light is green or red. This town should have vertical traffic lights.”
I frowned and googled it.
Traffic light perception (from
Lincoln does have a few intersections with vertical traffic lights (red on the top, yellow in the middle, green on the bottom), but many of them are horizontal. In some of the newer ones, the green lights are a little bluer, which helps those who are color blind differentiate more easily, but city workers aren’t running around replacing all the green lights with blue/green ones. Apparently changing every traffic light in the city to make them safer for around ten percent of the population would be expensive.
Halifax horizontal traffic light
(by Sprocket, via wikipedia)
Other cities primarily use vertical traffic lights. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, the lights on a horizontal traffic light are different shapes. The red is a square, the yellow a diamond, and the green a circle. In countries where we drive on the right side of the road, horizontal traffic lights go from left to right: red on the left, yellow in the middle, green on the right. Red and green are swapped where they drive on the left side of the road. So if that guy ran the red light on O Street because he was color blind and thought it was green, he was from way, way out of town.
Or, maybe he was a professional low-speed daredevil who specialized in stunts of this nature, and this one was just the newest in a series of disregarded red lights to get in the Guinness Book of World Records for Most Red Lights Run Without Causing An Accident.

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