Light shed on amber-gambling

The recently-revived Monty Python troupe famously sang, many years ago now, of liking traffic lights - ''but only when they're green'' and ''not when they are red'' - but, curiously, made no mention of the orange/yellow/amber (you choose) option.

Maybe they just couldn't be bothered.

It was, after all, just a catchy piece of nonsense. But it might have been filed in the ''too confusing'' bin, which is kind of what is happening as the debate continues over the DDD (Dunedin's dodgy drivers) issue.

Yesterday, The Wash highlighted the associated problem of running red lights and its close companion, the amber-gambler people who speed up to zip through intersections as the lights change.

This prompted a call from Ann, a reader, who said she always understood you could ''keep going'' on an amber light but ''be prepared to stop'' and asked if I could clarify the rule.

Happy to do so Ann. The Road Code is pretty clear: ''A yellow signal means stop, unless you are so close to the intersection that you can't stop safely. A yellow signal indicates that the lights will soon turn red.''

I guess the grey area will always be the varying interpretations of being able to ''stop safely''.

As I confessed yesterday, I've been known to keep going when, perhaps, I should have stopped.

The issue was raised on TV One's Close Up programme in 2012 when an Auckland traffic engineer was fined for running a yellow light.

She challenged her ticket in court, believing she had followed the rules and done nothing wrong, but lost the case.

The AA's general manager of motoring affairs, Mike Noon, was quoted then as saying there was a ''national epidemic'' of running lights.

''For a lot of drivers it seems that a yellow light actually means to stamp on the accelerator,'' he said.

Incidentally, the engineer said the rules were changed after she was fined (in 2011) and motorists caught running yellow lights could now be given a formal warning before being fined.

The issue has also been well-debated on the ODT's website with a correspondent known as ''Dunedin Dave'' making an interesting point about the timing of the colour changes at signals: ''One second it's green, then amber and within a very short time red.There should be a solid amber followed by a flashing one letting drivers know within 5 seconds the lights will turn red. This would take away the total guesswork you have when driving towards a green light, not knowing when it will go amber then almost immediately red.''

This led me to conduct a small experiment at lunchtime yesterday.

Standing at the corner of Cumberland and St Andrew Sts, I counted only three or four drivers in half a dozen signal phases who sneaked through on the amber light.

I also estimated the change from amber to red was about two seconds. Is that long enough to make a stop or go decision comfortably? You tell me.

As for red light runners, Ian Lewis, of Port Chalmers, tells me it's also an issue in the early morning in Dunedin.

He reckons he's nearly been ''cleaned up'' four or five times about 5am by truck and trailer units at the corner of Hanover and Castle Sts.

Another Wash reader has raised a related matter, about changes to the sequencing of signals at the Barnes Dr/Caversham motorway intersection.

She says when driving down from Lookout Point and wanting to turn right into the old South Rd, there is a red arrow in place.

Quite often this red light prevents her from turning even though there is no oncoming traffic, which causes a needless, and frustrating, delay.

What's the point of this arrow, she asks?

Roy Johnston, the NZ Transport Agency's senior safety engineer, replies: ''The Transport Agency removed filter turns at Barnes Dr intersection. Further alterations to the phasing are being considered to reduce the delays for right-turning traffic during quieter times outside peak travel times.''

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