Bristol declares interest in flashing amber lights

09.58 | 4 May 2011 | | 7 comments

Bristol City Council has expressed interest in switching traffic lights at some junctions to flashing amber – during quiet times – in order to cut congestion (this is Bristol).

The system is used in a number of European countries but this would be one of the first of its kind in the UK. Portsmouth City Council has already applied to the DfT to trail the scheme, but the DfT is first carrying out its own research.

Under the change, all the lights at a junction would be put on flashing amber at quiet times, for example at night. The idea is that amber rather than green encourages motorists to be cautious, but, unlike red lights, does not stop traffic flow unnecessarily.

Gary Hopkins, Bristol’s executive member for transport, said: “This could aid traffic flow at quieter times but should maintain safety.

"We have roundabouts and junctions where in quiet times drivers get understandably frustrated at hold ups but wiping out the lights altogether could lead motorists to be too overconfident. Current legislation does not allow for this but we will be watching developments very closely."

Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, voiced caution, saying: “We have always liked the principle of the idea because it saves petrol and reduces CO2 emissions. What someone has to decide, however, is the priority at those junctions – who is going to give way to whom?

"The other problem is – when someone hits someone else and they both went through flashing amber – whose fault is it?"

Click here to read the full ‘this is Bristol’ report.


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    “Bristol City Council has expressed interest in switching traffic lights at some junctions to flashing amber – during quiet times – in order to cut congestion.”

    If it is a “quiet time” how will it “cut congestion”?

    Ann Horton, Newport
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    Will a change of this kind require universal re-education of all drivers and a change in the theory tests for new drivers? Can we afford to do this for all drivers – could it be done using E learning to keep the cost down?

    Like many previous commentators I have experienced flashing amber lights on the continent and they seem to work just fine – but many British drivers are (forgive me!) a law unto themselves. On the continent in the main drivers comply with the law being taught from an early age to be ‘rule governed’….if they do not the rules are enforced on the spot. In the UK it seems to be we are raised to believe that rules are there to ‘bend/brake’ and sadly rules are only enforced in the UK if there is enough funding to pay for it! I would love to think ‘flashing ambers’ is a positive change that will deal with those problem junctions thus reducing congestion, but if the proposal is to only turn the lights to flashing during quiet times of day then I suspect the congestion benefits will not be that great as there is always less traffic on the roads during quiet times of day! I also agree with Andrew Howard on this – in the event of a bump who will be at fault if both parties decided to go on the amber? Mmmm I can see clear cut cases turning into 50/50 payouts – insurance industry wins? If the Government are serious about this proposal then let’s hope it is implemented the right way round – education first then change the infrastructure. All too often we see changes in ‘infrastructure’ and the driver is left to figure it out for them self!….or a new ‘sign’ will be erected giving a tip on what to do….adding yet more to the already sign cluttered roadside……..Having just re-read my comment it seems I am being very negative, so for the avoidance of doubt I think flashing ambers is a good idea in theory, I just have doubts they will work in the UK.

    Susan, Warwickshire
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    I have been involved in traffic control for over 25 years and I absolutely agree, this is a very good idea. I have used this in Italy and found it saves time, reduces unnecessary delay and saves fuel; all very important these days. And how many junctions have faulty detection with associated delay when not under control? Plenty around the country. I don’t agree that lights should simply be switched off because there is no indication of a conflicting junction; the flashing amber signal warns drivers of a hazard.
    We use this now to warn of school crossing, conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians at old pelicans [not ideal, I agree!] but we, as drivers, are accustomed to flashing amber as being a possible hazard.
    We cannot, and must not, remove all responsibility from drivers for their driving. You cannot eliminate every since collision while humans are involved.
    I would support this immediately but would hesitate perhaps for turn left on red if clear and ihts isn’t double standards, it’s a different situation entirely.
    Not sure the UK is geared up to something quite so radical though, it’s not easy to change things here! How about getting rid of a host of unnecessary street signs, AND ‘new signals ahead’. If you can’t see the signals… should you be driving?

    Peter Jones, Merseyside
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    Such a system works equally well in France. Warning of a junction is achieved by a flashing amber, whereas a failed set of lights may be overlooked when on unfamiliar territory. Elsewhere in Europe, some towns have removed lights altogether, and found accident rates plummet as junctions. Realisation of a need for caution is often removed when people are ‘controlled’ by lights and signs, people stop thinking. Awakening to that realisation is an essential part of road safety. It’s common to berate a standard of driving, and there will always be those who care little for anything that does not connect with their personal ego, but of all the countries in the world, Britain has one of, if not ‘the’ best safety record. What is needed is an increase in ‘brain’ speed. A surfeit of controls and regulations deadened that brain speed by removing individual responsibility and relying on external ‘controls’. Few people realise that a green light means ‘you may proceed with caution’ – it does not mean ‘GO’ – even though some early signals actually had that word on the green lens. (Showing my age!).

    Derek Reynolds, St Albans
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    They use this system in many parts of Japan and it is very successful. The priority rules are the same as for a four way stop intersection.

    point8 pty ltd
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    I wish I had your faith in my fellow man Peter, but honestly given the standard of driving in the UK such a move will unfortunately, I believe, lead to an increase in collisions at junctions.
    There is a world of difference between signals out through a fault (where drivers often drive with caution ’cause it’s “different”) and something turned out 365 days a year.

    Tony, Bristol
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Why bother wasting electricity on setting the lights to flash amber. When lights are broken and not working in my experience the traffic flows better so just turn them all off at the chosen junctions.

    Peter Wilson, London
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