Traffic Lights: Should We Get Rid Of the Green Ones?

I was reading through the Comment section of the Telegraph Online yesterday, when I found this:

SIR – Why do we need green traffic-lights?

If red or amber is not showing, then one is free to proceed and no other light is necessary. How much electricity could be saved if green lights were abolished all over the world?

Ian Munro
Clevedon, Somerset

Its an interesting idea, which I’d never really thought of before.

But I’m not convinced we should get rid of green traffic lights. For one simple reason: everyone would assume that when there’s no light, then its safe to proceed. But what if a bulb goes? Or what if there’s a power cut?

You can see that if any of those two events were to occurr, the red lights would not display, therefore meaning that drivers don’t know its not safe to continue. It sounds like a recipe for disaster!

Instead, get rid of the red lights. When no light shows, you must stop. When the green light comes on, you may continue with your journey. As one commenter says: “I would rather have a country-wide traffic jam during a power cut as opposed to junction carnage“!

Thinking about it, even that might not be very sensible. If you’re travelling along at night, in the darkness, in the middle of nowhere, how do you know that the traffic lights are there? If its because you can see the light from a long way off, then you’ve just demonstrated why we shouldn’t be getting rid of green or red lights!

If you can see a green light from a long way off, you know the traffic lights are there and you’ll probably slow down in case it turns red. If you see a red light from a long way off, you’ll slow down. If you see no light, you won’t slow down. So when the red light comes back on, you’ll slam on the brakes and possibly end up crashing into all the other cars in front of you who have done the same.

Perhaps we should do what the Greeks do – get rid of the orange light? There’s no real need for it. Traffic lights tell you when its safe to go, and when its not, with or without an orange light!

Or… maybe get rid of them all together. A couple of experiments show that actually, this is more possible than you might have thought.

I quite like the idea of getting rid of them altogether. But what do you think? Comment below, e-mail your thoughts to, or write on my (new) Facebook page.

Fred Hart

Stock Controller and Radio Presenter/Producer


  1. Last night down the pub, my mate Gary came up came up with the same idea of getting rid of the green light. However another good reason not to is that without the green light confirming right-of-way, particularly when a side road meets a main road, the absence of any light at all would mean the traffic would need to slow down and proceed with caution until it could be sure that the opposing traffic was indeed stopped. This of course means less throughput and more queues and emissions.

  2. I would say that in the ‘red light only’ scenario the absence of a red light would be as much of an indication to ‘go’ as a green light would be. Why is a green light on any more helpful than no light if no light means go? You wouldn’t need to double check anymore than you would when a green light is on if the other traffic was held on red. This over simplification, however, is probably why I don’t work in Traffic Signals Design and Pete does. Also he had definitely had one pint too many when this conversation started and I hadn’t! If only he could concentrate on his ‘throughput’ in terms of pints….and his emissions.

  3. Hmmm, I’m now in two minds. Although with only the red light we would never have had the hilarious play on words of “Amber Gambler”, I would also never have been able to give my wife the “green light” for the new kitchen extension and could’ve saved a fortune.

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