My Dad always used to remind me that "character is who you are when no one else is looking". While I ascribe to live by that sentiment I sometimes find it hard to be a law-abiding citizen when I am stopped at a red light in the middle of the night when no one else is around and the darn light seems to be stuck on red in my direction. To quote the rock band The Clash, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Simone Secci via Unsplash.com
Simone Secci via Unsplash.com
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Have you ever experienced that? Many of us have at one point or another in our lives and since I am usually running the roads while most of you are asleep, it happens to me quite a bit. So I have done some sleuthing into what makes the red lights change when they don't appear to be on their normal daylight timer.

Now it's true, that most cities and towns with multiple street lights have those lights "timed" to ensure a constant and steady flow of traffic. The timing of the lights helps to keep congestion to a minimum and allows for some breathing room for motorists who need to make turns onto other streets or into parking lots.

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JordiDelgado, Getty Stock / ThinkStock
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In order to keep traffic flowing in times of less traffic, many communities use sensors to tell the traffic system when a vehicle is present at an intersection. This is especially true of side roads that intersect with major thoroughfares.

A lot of communities use sensors to tell the traffic light system when to change. In many cases, there is an "inductive loop" of wire embedded in the roadway. The system uses magnetic induction to determine if a vehicle has approached the light. You've probably noticed these grooves in the pavement at many intersections in your town.

If you're stuck at a midnight red light at one of these intersections it might require you to reverse your vehicle in and out of the "induction area" to get the traffic system to recognize you. If you're on a motorcycle, this might be a little tricker.

Some other intersections employ a laser system or a camera system to detect traffic. The problem with these systems is that the lenses of the sensors can become dirty and covered with dust. This makes "seeing" a lone vehicle in the dark a little more difficult than it might be during the day or in times of heavier traffic.

Lawrence Chismorie via Unsplash.com
Lawrence Chismorie via Unsplash.com
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The trick to getting the light's "attention" is simply this, flash your headlights from bright to dim a few times. The sensors do pick up on light, especially through the dust in the dark. No, it won't work all the time but if it does it should expedite your travel on the lonely dark roads and let's face it, nobody likes to sit for a long time in the dark at a lonely intersection.

My personal experience has found that if one of these "hacks" doesn't work, the other one will. That is if the city you're driving in uses this kind of technology. Many smaller communities simply set a timer on their traffic lights and in that case it comes down to the Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry approach, are you feeling lucky?

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