Boylan: Standardized, flashing amber traffic lights would improve intersection safety

I have been a professional truck driver for almost 35 years. I drive on our nation's highways every day. I’ve been a motorcycle driver practically as long. I feel passionate about everyone’s safety who operates a motor vehicle.

Traffic accidents seem more common. Rear-end collisions also seem more frequent lately. I am concerned enough to put my concerns about the safer utilization of overhead traffic lights into the public spotlight. It’s my contention that amber lights should blink at least six times and stay illuminated minimally for five seconds every time they’re illuminated to allow traffic, especially commercial trucks, to clear an intersection safely and completely.


The amber light was put in place to create a safe flow of traffic, but it seems to me that lights have an inconsistent and possibly shortened timing sequence. Sometimes, when I’m at my most cynical, I wonder whether these lights are engineered to trip-up drivers as a way to generate incremental revenue for the county or the state. The gridlock that results in traffic tickets is veiled by the “Don’t Block The Box” campaign. Sound crazy?

I called several state Department of Transportation agencies about this issue. Here is what they told me.

The Delaware-DOT reported that the amber-light timing is usually three or four seconds, but this can change with traffic flow and the time of day. Virginia-DOT informed me the amber light timing is based on traffic speed; i.e., traffic that moves at 55 mph will result in amber-light 4-second intervals; at 35 mph in three-second intervals. New York State-DOT amber-light timing is based on the same data. The amber light is usually illuminated for four seconds, but traffic speed and road conditions such as curves, hills, obstructed vision, and inclement weather conditions have different dynamics for large trucks than four-wheel passenger vehicles. These factors also must be considered in the analysis of traffic that enters and exits intersections.

No one with whom I talked at state DOT offices said anything about commercial vehicles. Trucks that haul loads that weigh tens of thousands of pounds start very slowly and take a significantly longer distance to stop than passenger vehicles, yet truck drivers are still held fiscally responsible for being in an intersection at the changing of the lights and for blocking the box. A flashing amber light that blinks at least six times using modified timing for transit speed and space-clearance at an intersection safely is long overdue.

My suggestion regarding these traffic light changes should be sent to the Maryland Department of Transportation, which has direct control of the lights. However, they are not the only agency that controls the traffic lights. There are county and subdivided districts within the state whose lights are programmed just as erratically.

Autonomous vehicles, both commercial and non-commercial are soon to be on our nation’s highways. Their computers and advanced radar systems must be able to navigate safely through the same intersections that non-computerized drivers use.

Common sense and public safety demand that our elected representatives confront and demand that our government, traffic control department management come to a clear consensus on how to correct this public safety issue and act upon it. Maryland should be ahead of the curve on this issue and give it the green light.

I hope that publicizing this idea will help to bring the issue into the public fore and hopefully garner enough support that persons that support this argument will contact their local and state representatives about it.

America, it is time to put the green light on this blinking amber-light proposal. The Buck stops here.