Traffic psychology: why don’t the others drive off when they are green?

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Why don’t the others start when it is green??

Traffic psychology: why don't the others drive off when they are green?-drive

The rule is actually quite simple: you can drive when the traffic light is green.

Source: picture alliance / dpa / puc pzi

"It doesn’t get greener" is a popular saying when things stop at the traffic lights. But why are so many waiting when the light has long since changed? Psychologists struggle to find an answer.

D.he traffic light is red, fourth in the queue. Actually, it shouldn’t be a problem to come across the intersection at the next traffic light phase.

A little later the time has come. The first steps on the gas and disappears on the horizon. But number two seems to have a problem with operating the gearshift lever, clutch and accelerator at the same time – it only takes what feels like an eternity to move forward.

The wait makes Number Three so angry that he lets the man in front with the horn to understand what he thinks of the delay. As a result, he forgets himself to put the car into gear and causes another delay after the stuttering departure from number two. He just rushes over at yellow, the driver in the fourth car is looking at the red light again.

The technology is not the reason

All of this happens countless times every day at German traffic lights. But why? There is no explanation for this, just attempts to find one. But strolling around the green is one of the things that drivers can get very upset about, as already shown by traffic forums on the Internet – “tranfunzelig”, “lame”, these are the words, it is not uncommon for such threads to be hundreds of posts long.

Of course, there is speculation about the causes, the more flowery the better. The different engine power of the vehicles is to blame, it is then said, or the engines of the cars with start-stop systems that switch off when the traffic lights stop.

But whatever is assumed to be the cause, there is a counter-argument for everything. Because even a very old Mercedes diesel is powerful enough to drive off quickly, and a start-stop system doesn’t need ages to start working again.

“Quickly” is a relative term

Only the soft factors remain as the real cause. "A wide variety of people come together at a traffic light," says ADAC psychologist Ulrich Chiellino. "There are people in a hurry, but others have a lot of time and are much more relaxed."

So while the tense field worker pays attention to every split second, the rested and relaxed driver shifts into gear without haste and then drives off at some point. But what one person perceives as a completely normal speed of action is already provocative dawdling for the other. After all, the states of mind stress and relaxation also lead to a very different sense of time.

For the traffic sociologist Alfred Fuhr, there are also other influencing factors. He also sees the car itself as the cause – namely its interior. Because it now offers a whole range of distraction options in case things get stuck.

So you play around with the infotainment system, adjust the navigation to new destinations, "people look around in the car," says Fuhr. The result can be that the color change of the traffic light escapes you.

Heinz Erhardt was already upset

But the problem is not really new, it is definitely older than navigation systems and music from iPod and Co .. Decades ago people got excited about it and vented their anger in various ways.

One of the pioneers of such resentment is the legendary comedian Heinz Erhardt, in his role as Police Sergeant Eberhard Dobermann in the 1959 film "Of course the drivers.".

Erhardt dedicated a poem to the traffic light phenomenon around 50 years ago, the content of which has lost none of its topicality. An excerpt: “And as beautiful as the red seemed, you are not green with this red. But when green comes along, and you can, the dear man in front – such cases are guaranteed – stalled his engine. If he finally gets it going, and you can, it is no longer green. Guilt is the idiot up front! Until you get green, you see red. "

A "self-learning system"

So what remains is resignation. Fuhr calls the traffic light weakness a "self-unlearning system". In other words: The driver experiences again and again that it does not help him if he is ready to start immediately as soon as the traffic light turns green.

Rather, over time, people realize that the delay in starting the traffic light is an inescapable fact. "The driver learns, and he resigns – he tells himself that he can no longer come across as green anyway."

So the former quick starter joins the army of the leisurely. And so there is one more car at the next set of traffic lights that is slow to get going.

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