Today, traffic light, tomorrow, stop sign. The City of Ekurhuleni announced this week it would no longer replace damaged traffic lights.
Instead, intersections will revert to stop streets. The city’s coffers are, a statement suggested, depleting.
“The City of Ekurhuleni is concerned about the high costs of replacing traffic lights, which are mainly damaged through avoidable human actions such as vehicle accidents, theft and vandalism.
“The city spent about R120 million fixing and replacing traffic lights in the previous financial year ended June 2022,” spokesperson Zweli Dlamini said.
“The city has decided that in some incidents, damaged traffic lights will be replaced with stop signs due to limited funds.”
In some instances, it will be a temporary measure while other intersections will permanently become stop streets.
“The permanent installation of stop signs will follow a process to de-warrant the traffic signal as per the South African Road Traffic Signs Manual.”
Layton Beard of the Automobile Association said that changing traffic lights to stop streets was not dissimilar to treating the symptom rather than the cause.
He said better law enforcement would prevent much of the damage to traffic lights.
“Stop signs are likely to face the same abuse as traffic lights, albeit cheaper to replace. But it may just be replacing one problem with another.”
“If you thought load shedding traffic was bad, wait until the stop signs come into play,” said local councillor Simon Lapping, adding that in his Kempton Park ward, a stop sign swap out has already caused traffic mayhem.
Forensic accident investigator Stan Bezuidenhout of IBF Investigations considered the city’s action proactive in a sense, but with a question mark.
“I find myself questioning the prioritisation of financial considerations over tangible statistical data.”
Bezuidenhout has investigated hundreds of intersection accidents. He said replacing traffic lights with stop signs is regrettable.
“This move reeks of financial mismanagement, inadequate maintenance skills, an overburdened or poorly trained workforce and the ramifications of power outages and outstanding energy bills,” he said.
On the flipside, it might slow down traffic and not present a challenge to motorists to beat the lights – a frequent cause of collisions.
He cited motorists’ propensity to speed through traffic lights or disregard red signals. “Drivers accelerate to outpace impending signal changes.
“This reckless behaviour escalates the risk of intersection crashes, as vehicles travelling at elevated speeds necessitate more extended braking distances upon encountering a red light.
Misconstruing the meaning of a yellow traffic light leads some to accelerate, assuming it’s a cue to expedite intersection clearance.”
But then the lights turn red.
“Speeding through a red light at high velocity results in more severe collisions, while abrupt stops can trigger rear-end impacts.”
Beth Janicek, an attorney in Texas in the US, said there are experts who claim that traffic signals increase the danger at intersections and that fourway stops should be used when possible.
An informational piece on Janicek’s online resource centre read: “The reason is that stop signs decrease the speed at the intersection.
Unless someone blatantly runs the stop sign, they should at least be moving through the intersection at a relatively low speed, and any collision is less likely to be fatal or to cause serious injuries.”
Bezuidenhout suggested other measures such as intersection redesign, proper intersection lighting, integration of traffic calming measures and traffic circles.
“It’s noteworthy that the city acknowledges discarding the principles of the SA Road Traffic Signs Manual. While some intersections might warrant stop signs over traffic lights, it can’t be universally applied.”