Traffic Light Neurosis
When I came across this line on the website for Time, for a moment I assumed it must be another article talking about Shared Space, Hans Monderman, etc.:
“Since it scrapped its traffic light system four years ago, busy, industrial Bayonne, N.J. has had a substantial decrease in traffic mishaps.”
Then I looked at the date of the article: 1938.
I’m not sure what Bayonne replaced its lights with —anyone know? — perhaps early traffic circles.
In any case, the rest of the article has some enduring implications for contemporary traffic:
“No scientist has explained why. But last week, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Cincinnati Physician Howard D. Fabing examined the behavior of the average motorist, found that traffic lights caused conditioned reflexes which made him as dithery as one of Russian Physiologist I.P. Pavlov’s famous third-degreed dogs.
One of Professor Pavlov’s dogs was taught that a circular light flashed on a screen meant food, that an elliptical light meant none. Then the ellipse was gradually rounded out until it was nearly circular, but no food. This psychological double-cross sent the dog into a nervous state called traumatic neurosis, from which he had to be rescued by rest and daily rectal instillations of bromides. An obedient motorist is conditioned to stop at a red light, to proceed at a green. But Dr. Fabing’s research marked the green as a treacherous come-on, since often just when a motorist steps on the accelerator the green light changes to red, so that his right foot must jump for the brake. Soon most motorists develop what Dr. Fabing calls an “anxiety neurosis in miniature,” mainly centred in an uncertain right foot, but with other noticeable effects. On himself, Dr. Fabing noted “a quickening of my pulse by 25 beats … a pilomotor [hair-on-end] response on my forearms, a dryness of the mouth, a sudden excessive sweating of the palms a feeling of epigastric distress.”
Not willing to suggest abolition of traffic lights, which most safety experts agree are necessary in heavy traffic, Dr. Fabing called attention to several patented, non-confusing systems. His recommendation: a clock-dial light with a rotating hand swinging from a green section at the top to a yellow caution light at the quarter-hour position, to a red section at the bottom, to another yellow caution light at the three-quarter-hour position— the hand always showing by its position how much green or red time remains.”
This entry was posted on Monday, September 29th, 2008 at 12:09 pm and is filed under Drivers, Traffic Culture, Traffic Engineering, Traffic History, Traffic Signals. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.