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Countdown Timers: Safe for Pedestrians, Dangerous for Drivers

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When walking toward an intersection, we’ve all relied on countdown timers to determine if we have enough time left to cross. While these devices ensure safer passage for pedestrians, they may be alerting drivers to how much time they have before the light changes, encouraging them to speed through signals they should be slowing down for and creating a dangerous situation, reported NPR.

When the timer winds down to two or three seconds, pedestrians will stop and, in many cases, drivers, who can also see the timers, will go. A study in Toronto revealed that installing timers at nearly 1,800 intersections decreased the number of pedestrian accidents and increased collisions between cars, specifically rear-end ones. This is because some drivers would slow down for the dwindling timers while others behind them would attempt to speed up. The problem tended to be worse at once-safe intersections and to grow with time as drivers became more used to the timers and took greater risks, blowing through intersections first with only two seconds left on the timer and then just one.

One solution researchers proposed was to transmit the countdowns aurally rather than visually-that way only pedestrians would be aware of them. This option, however, could prove discriminatory for the deaf and hearing impaired.

What do you think? How could countdown timers be made safer for drivers?

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