In a previous letter, I conveyed my feeling that the timing of the yellow traffic lights in Fort Frances was too short. Coun. Roy Avis was approached and my concerns expressed, and he took the matter to council.
He has just informed me that the concern was justified, and that the yellow intervals here were all set faster than North American standards for traffic lights.
These standards are set to provide the safest transition from green to red traffic lights, and to reduce the possibility of accident at regulated crossings to a minimum. Essentially, there is a period when the green light turns yellow as a warning of the red to come and then there is a period when both sets of lights are red before the green comes on for the cross traffic to proceed.
Allowance is made for the width of the intersection and the set speed limits for approaching traffic, and there is a formula which calculates the recommended minimum time for the yellow light to be displayed and for all lights to be red before releasing the cross traffic to start.
This minimum time was established by experts as a standard for North America as the smallest possible amount of time for a motorist to come to a safe stop.
In most cities, it is exceeded and I have timed yellow lights in Florida and Nevada which lasted for a full five seconds. In these states, motorists are running on dry roads and certainly never have ice to contend with.
I have enclosed a list of Fort Frances lights for your information. You will note that the yellow at every intersection has now been increased to three seconds and the time for all lights on the intersection to be red has been set at one second, which makes for a total of four seconds from the onset of yellow in one direction to green in the cross street.
You also will note that the minimum recommended time from North American standards for these crossings is 3.3 seconds and the minimum recommended all-red time is 1.2 seconds, so our total transition time is still 0.5 seconds faster than the minimum safe standard set by traffic experts.
At some crossings, it is up to 0.8 seconds faster.
In 0.5 seconds, a car travelling at 50 km/h travels 40 metres and after moderate braking will still travel 20 metres. Either figure is enough to put a driver firmly in the middle of an intersection–illegal–which leaves the alternatives of a very firm stop, which exposes you to the danger of being rear-ended (I have had this happen three times and am very sensitive of the subject), or of continuing and risking a ticket if the police choose to set up a trap at those lights.
As a native Australian, I come from the mildest and most law-abiding people on Earth but bureaucrats can–and occasionally do–upset us. When laws are made, they should be applied fairly and even-handedly, and there is no reason why residents of Fort Frances should be held to a different standard from the rest of North America.
It is unfortunate that hiding in Perth’s parking lot became a ticket-giver’s dream. With the improperly set yellow, it was possible to give someone a ticket for not stopping at, or encroaching on, the crossing at about every 10th light change. Since the setting was not accurate, it is difficult to see what this has to do with law enforcement, and since it ignores the advice of the national standards, it has nothing to do with safety.
Most people cannot afford to take the time off to go and fight the ticket in court, or afford a lawyer to fight their case, or are intimidated by the idea of defending themselves against the testimony of two police officers and simply pay the fine.
In my last letter, I suggested there was something wrong with the set-up of the lights in Fort Frances, and that motorists who were being ticketed should go to court and defend themselves.
I am now suggesting that anyone who has been ticketed and fined for light change violations in Fort Frances should petition the court to have their conviction set aside and their fine refunded, on the grounds that the light settings have not complied with national standards and that the convictions were, therefore, improper.
I do not have the slightest sympathy for people who run red lights but do not believe that unfair convictions on improperly set lights should have any more validity than speeding convictions would have if the radar guns were improperly set.
It is to be hoped that one day the light settings in Fort Frances will coincide with the rest of the continent.
Fort Frances, Ont.