It has commonly been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this adage should be remembered when engaging in any sort of driving. Engineers at Oregon State University have found that many accidents can be prevented at controlled intersections by adhering to a few simple rules.

Yellow lights and the dilemma zone

The Oregon State University study of car accidents focused on intersections controlled by stoplights. According to the researchers, more than 2,000 deaths occur at these intersections annually, and most of them can be attributed to decisions made in what is known as the dilemma zone.

The dilemma zone is defined as the area on the approach to the intersection while the stoplight is yellow. One of the dangerous aspects about deciding to go through an intersection while in the dilemma zone is that the duration of yellow lights is not standardized.

Making decisions in the dilemma zone

According to surveys, only 50 percent of drivers understand that the average duration of yellow lights is from three to six seconds. In addition, David Hurwitz, Ph.D., one of the professors who conducted the OSU study, states that humans are inherently bad at judging speed and distance, which makes for a deadly combination in the dilemma zone.

In order to avoid accidents at intersections, it helps to pay attention to the other cars around you, but you should never go through an intersection just because the car in front of you does. As a rule of thumb, if one or more cars have already gone through the yellow light ahead of you, then you should stop. However, this rule must be tempered by the situation of the driver directly behind you. If that car does not appear to be slowing, a sudden stop may result in a rear-end collision.