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Call to ban traffic lights sparks safety concerns

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 20, 2012

Road works
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Road safety groups have hit out at calls for traffic lights to be removed.

Sir Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, said nearly all traffic lights should be removed from Britain's roads because they increased the number of accidents.

Sir Simon described the lights as a form of state control, and called for 90% of signals to be "torn down" because they were dangerous and slowed down motorists.

Leading safety groups say traffic lights are "essential" and must not be removed.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents warned that removing most of them would result in more collisions. The Taxpayers' Alliance said abolishing all lights would be both expensive and impractical.

The region has thousands of sets of traffic lights at road junctions, roundabouts and crossings. In Devon, there are a total of over 1,550 traffic signal heads, used to safely control the movement of vehicles and maximise traffic flow.

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, warned that removing the signals could pose greater dangers.

"Traffic lights are essential," he said. Although there may be some that could be removed or changed without causing too many problems, removing most of them would cause gridlock and result in more, not fewer, accidents.

"It is incorrect to say that most accidents occur at traffic lights, and when accidents do happen at traffic light junctions, it is not because drivers are distracted by looking at the lights. There are many causes – running the red light, approaching too fast, not anticipating that the lights will change, following too closely, pedestrians stepping out without looking, to mention a few."

Robert Oxley, campaign manager of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "It would be impractical and expensive to abolish traffic lights. Roadsides and junctions though have become increasingly cluttered with lights, signs and other street furniture. Councils could certainly do with cutting back on the amount of signs on our roadsides which are both expensive and can spoil the scenery."

Devon County Councillor Percy Prowse has campaigned for some traffic lights to be switched off at night in Exeter, citing that the city has half the county's share of traffic signals.

Sir Simon told Readers' Digest: "I'd tear down 90% of traffic lights. They are merely ways in which the state exerts control over us.

"They're also dangerous; most accidents take place at traffic lights because everyone is looking at the lights and not at other road users.

"We're obsessed with traffic lights in Britain, and in London there's a light practically every 30 yards, mostly with a clear street ahead. They're a very inefficient way of enabling road users to get around."

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