Mixed signals

Traffic light hacks to cut your commute.

Queenslanders spend a significant part of their day commuting, with Brisbane residents spending an average of five hours a week travelling to and from work despite having the shortest commutes in south-east Queensland. 

RACQ’s Head of Technical and Safety Policy Steve Spalding reveals how traffic lights can impact your commute.

Can you make traffic lights go green faster?

Yes, but you must stop on top of the sensor loops located just before the stop line. 

The loops are under rectangular panels cut in to the bitumen and sends a signal to the traffic signal controller when it senses a metal object, such as a car, above it.

Failing to stop on a sensor may mean you wait longer at the traffic lights, especially in off-peak times.

Can motorcycles and bicycles trigger the sensor?

Motorcycles can mostly be detected by the loops.

Because there’s less metal in a motorcycle than in a car it’s important for motorcyclists to position themselves over the cut marks on the loop panel, rather than over the middle of the panel. 

Cyclists, particularly those riding carbon fibre frame bikes, may find it difficult to trigger the sensor. 

Do traffic lights stay green if there are a lot of cars waiting?

Stopping reasonably close to the car in front of you means when the line of traffic starts to move the sensor will know there are a number of cars waiting and can hold the green light for slightly longer.

Do lights stay green or red for a set amount of time?

The lights will usually be on a set cycle in busy intersections. 

In off-peak times the main road may stay green until a vehicle on a side road triggers the sensor loops to change the traffic lights. 

Does pressing the button at pedestrian crossings make it change quicker?

While many of us are guilty of pressing the button at pedestrian crossings multiple times, it makes no difference how many times the button is pushed.

Pressing the button sends a request for a green pedestrian signal to the queue of intersection signals. Like in an elevator, one press is all that’s needed for the signal to join the queue.

Can emergency services change traffic lights to green?

Yes, Emergency Vehicle Priority (EVP) technology enables emergency vehicles to automatically change traffic lights to green along their route. By clearing the path ahead emergency vehicles can reach their destination quicker.

Once the emergency vehicle has passed, the traffic lights return to their normal sequence to minimise disruption to traffic flow.

Not all intersections and emergency vehicles are fitted with EVP technology. The Department of Transport and Main Roads is planning to roll out the technology in major centres over the next few years.

Can you drive through a light that’s stuck on red for multiple cycles?

There are currently no provisions in the Queensland road rules that allow motorists to go through a red light because the loop hasn’t triggered. 

How do I report a broken or malfunctioning traffic light?

Reporting a malfunctioning traffic light can help to get it fixed or adjusted quickly.

If you think a traffic light is not functioning correctly you can report it to your local road authority. This is usually the local council for suburban streets and the Department of Transport and Main Roads for main roads.