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New traffic lights confuse drivers

Police say new system reflects global trend, but skepticism remains


Is it causing confusion or a stepping stone to improved traffic culture?

The police’s ambitious introduction of a new traffic signal system is drawing criticism from drivers in central Seoul, who say they have almost caused traffic accidents out of confusion.

On April 20, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency installed three-color left turn signals next to the conventional red-yellow-green traffic lights at 11 major intersections in downtown Seoul for a test run. The red, yellow and green left-turn signs indicate ban, alert and allowance for the left turn, respectively, the agency said.

“Turn left at the green left-turn sign and stop at red,” the authorities said in a press release. To reduce the confusion, the Seoul Metropolitan Government installed a signpost next to the signal reading, “Stop at the red left-turn signal.”
The new traffic signal system installed at a Gwanghwamun intersection in central Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap News)
The new traffic signal system installed at a Gwanghwamun intersection in central Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap News)

The police tout the new system as a global trend, which many countries adopted years ago. They said the new signs will give precise directions to each driver and would contribute to easing the hellish traffic congestions at the center of the capital.

The National Police Agency Commissioner General Cho Hyun-oh said he was content with the outcome of the test run. “We will gradually replace the new system nationwide. Drivers might feel strange at first, but will understand our intention of adoption after all,” he said Monday. He admitted that the promotion of the new traffic light system was insufficient but said, “Motorists learn fast.”

However, from the first day of operation, many drivers claimed that the signals were too confusing since they have never seen a red-light left-turn signal before. “Whether it is red or green, I instinctively make a left turn at the left-turn signal,” 52-year-old driver Kim Jung-hun said. “Moreover, the signal post is too small and I can hardly read it,” he added.

Another 27-year-old female driver Kim So-eun said her car almost collided with another Tuesday because it took a couple of seconds for her to read and understand the signs properly. But she said things are getting better. “It’s just a matter of familiarity. We will get used to it,” she said.

A police officer told Yonhap news agency Thursday that people were adjusting to the new system. “On the first day we had to inform many drivers of the new system at intersections but I haven’t seen one (mistake) today,” he said.

Still, skepticism remains. “The notorious Seoul traffic jam needs something more fundamental than a mere signal system to solve it,” Kim Sang-hoon, a 33-year-old driver, said. “It could be a waste of money while adding more trouble to the already stressed drivers,” he added.

By Bae Ji-sook  (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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