John Smith is frantic. His work day usually starts at 8 a.m., but he’s stuck at a red light at 8:02 in the heart of downtown Seattle after his hour-long commute from Interstate 405 Southbound.
The light turns green and he speeds to the next intersection. The next light is green, but suddenly turns yellow. Smith brakes as yellow gradually fades to red. Smith is doomed to a couple more minutes at an intersection in a big city, further delaying his arrival at work.
If Smith had a smartphone or GPS, his morning might have played out differently, though.
Thanks to traffic alerts company PhantomALERT, drivers can install an alert that informs them which intersections have red light cameras.
The company also offers alerts for speed traps, speed cameras, school zones, dangerous intersections and even speed bumps, according to PhantomALERT’s website.
Although the police have voiced their support for these alerts, there is a clear safety concern associated with them, especially in the case of red light cameras.
For example, if John Smith starts using the alerts, he might start speeding through yellow lights if he knows the intersection does not have red light cameras.
However, because of the various alerts Phantom Alert provides, he might also be more cautious near a speed camera or a residential area, which could increase public safety.
According to a March 10 report by WWLTV.com, a New Orleans news channel, Seattle drivers received 23,000 tickets only one year into the installation of red light cameras in the city. Many of them have decided to install PhantomALERT’s system, which costs about $10 a month.
Smith’s situation is not uncommon for Seattle drivers, especially for those who commute on I-405.
According to a March 8 report by The Daily Beast ranking America’s 50 worst commutes, I-405 Southbound to Seattle is the eighth-worst highway for commuters in the nation, behind highways in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Therefore, Seattle drivers are often late before they even exit the highway.
In short, every stop at a red light, school zone or slow intersection makes Seattle drivers later to their destination, which is often a job.
The convenience of PhantomALERT also comes with obvious safety concerns.
If drivers are constantly seeking to avoid traffic enforcement areas, it would seem they would be distracted while behind the wheel.
But if the technology is properly utilized, drivers should know which intersections will slow them down and plan their routes accordingly.
The result could be greater driving awareness — the less time drivers spend finding detours based on traffic, the more convenient and time-effective their routes will be.
Also, various police departments nationwide have advocated for PhantomALERT, stating it increases awareness in many drivers, especially in cities that have many traffic lights.
Not only will drivers become more aware of their surroundings based on a landmark, such as a traffic light, but they also will be more cautious when approaching certain intersections.
These factors highlight a cognitive idea called traffic psychology, which pertains to drivers’ emotions and reactions when behind the wheel.
Collectively, this new technology aids in the improvement of driver awareness in that it increases cognitive activity — the more the brain is prepared to encounter certain factors, such as red lights, the more focused it will be to react to those factors.
PhantomALERT should eventually become a commonly used tool for drivers nationwide, especially in large cities that experience significant traffic congestion.
Wyatt Kanyer is a junior news-editorial journalism and Spanish double major from Yakima, Wash.