Digital timer can enhance traffic lights operation

The traffic lights should not only be standardised to incorporate an amble light as a warning before lights are changed from green to red but also be improved particularly at main and busy signal-light junctions.

One innovative way to enhance the operation of a signalised junction is to try out the system used in Anyang, a "rural" city in Henan Province, China about 500km south of Beijing. In Anyang, I was delighted to notice that at major signalised junctions, a separate but prominent digital timer was incorporated beside the green and red lights to show the time remaining, in seconds, before the next change of light.

With this timer in place and if the light is green, motorists approaching the junction will know exactly the time remaining for them to cross the junction. If the remaining time is a couple of seconds when a motorist approaches the junction he/she will know that he/she has to stop and wait for the next green light. Without a timer one has to guess when the red light will be on and because of the uncertainty, very often he/she will speed across the junction just to beat the red light.

This timer is also of help to motorists when the red light is on. It tells the motorists when to get their vehicles ready to move without having to hurry when the red light changes to green.

With this timer, it is not necessary to have an amble or warning light. In fact the digital timer is also a warning light but it is much more effective and efficient than the traditional one.

As a means to improve traffic flows in urban cities such as Kuala Lumpur, it is hope that the relevant authorities will look into this matter. Perhaps a trial can be carried out in Kuala Lumpur to determine its feasibility and effectiveness in improving traffic management at busy road junctions.

A. S. Toh

Note: An edited version of the above was published in The Star on Oct 23, 1998. 2008