Crosswalk countdown timers causing more vehicle collisions, research shows

ABOVE: Pedestrian countdown signals may increase accidents. Lama Nicolas reports. 

TORONTO – Crosswalk countdown timers at intersections are meant for pedestrians. But new research shows it’s hard for Toronto drivers to ignore the flashing signs as the clock ticks down and drivers speed up, leading to more collisions.

“Intersections that are historically more safe, the effect on car accidents was especially bad,” said researcher Arvind Magesan. “It had a much larger affect on the number of car accidents per month.”

Magesan and co-author Sacha Kapoor of Erasmus University in Rotterdam studied five years of data from Toronto: Intersections with countdown timers had, on average, five fewer pedestrian collisions per month. But they had 21.5 more crashes per month between vehicles.

Magesan believes drivers are seeing the countdown and speeding up to make it through a light that will soon turn red.

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The Insurance Bureau of Canada believes the findings may warrant more study.

“There’s a lot more distractions on the road now and this may be another one that’s impacting drivers and their abilities,” said bureau spokersperson Pete Karageorgos.

The researchers say instead of a visual countdown of descending numbers, an audible voice should count the amount of time left to cross so that pedestrians benefit from that information but drivers can’t hear it.

But the days of the crosswalk countdown are by no means numbered: The City of Toronto says there is no impact on driver safety.

“The number of vehicle-to-vehicle collisions has remained constant, since before the countdowns were installed,” said Mike Brady of the City of Toronto Traffic Safety.

Magesan sees it differently.

“If you didn’t have that countdown then the trends in accidents would have went down even faster,” he said. “So we’re finding that countdowns actually did cause collisions.”

You can read the full report below.

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-with files from Postmedia

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