Distracted drivers not helping Austin traffic light delays

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin drivers have all dealt with the frustration of waiting for what seems like an eternity for a traffic light to turn green, only to have three to five cars actually make it through when the light changes.

Despite Austin being hands-free since January 2015, distracted driving is on the rise and the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) says it is the reason for backups at intersections. While drivers are pointing the blame at the traffic signals, ATD says the problem lies in a lack of understanding about how the lights work.

Distracted driving adding to Austin's traffic light backup according to the Austin Transportation Department (KXAN Photo/Tom Rapp)
Distracted driving creating backups at Austin intersections according to the Austin Transportation Department (KXAN Photo/Tom Rapp)

All it takes is one distracted driver failing to move up to the intersection when the light is green causing the signal to turn red prematurely. This results in traffic delays and frustrated drivers.

ATD hopes increasing awareness about how the signal detection technology functions will help keep drivers moving and create better traffic flow. Most of Austin intersections are orchestrated by the signal technology. When a car approaches the intersection, they determine when to provide or extend green lights.

Imagine sitting at a red light, when it turns green the driver in front of you is not paying and doesn’t pull forward. The signal determines all the cars made it through and quickly turns yellow and then red.

“We use cameras which basically just look down at the approach and we draw certain zones where if the car comes into that zone they’ll be detected,” said Brian Goldberg, Austin traffic signal engineer.

In addition to cameras “there is in ground inductance loop detectors, which is a metal loop wire under the pavement and if anything magnetic comes on top of it it will send in a call,” said Goldberg. “How this works is when a call comes in it will go to the signal and say that there are cars on this approach we need to give green time here.”

The city is asking drivers to pay attention at intersections to help keep Austin moving.

“The advantage to using this is that the signal will know when it should give green time,” said Goldberg.

While the signal detection devices can help in traffic situations, a city memo indicates less than 50 percent of the devices are actually working properly.

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