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New Japanese Traffic Light Design Could Revamp the Road for Colorblind Drivers 

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Ochiai’s innovative traffic light design promises to make life easier for colorblind drivers
Photo: JDP


Some people are all about analyzing—and sometimes complaining about—traffic lights: how slow they are, how many there are, whether the traffic light sensor is really working (or if it even exists at all). Other people are trying to improve them. Take Evgeny Arinin, Russian industrial designer. He recently proposed an updated model that uses traffic light colors, shapes, arrows, and other icons to provide drivers with more specific and graphic navigation cues.

Taro Ochiai, professor at Kyushu Sangyo University, is yet another individual harnessing his expertise to improve the current traffic light. However, he goes beyond the contemporary discussion of changing traffic light colors, shapes, and overall visuals. His new traffic light design targets colorblind drivers.

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Color blindness currently affects 8% of men and  0.5% of women worldwide. The root cause of this condition is usually genetic, caused by X chromosome mutations. Though sometimes diabetes-triggered retinal damage or eye conditions like glaucoma can contribute to color blindness. There are three main types of color blindness: monochromacy, dichromacy, and anomalous trichromacy. The differences have to do with the condition of an individual’s cone pigments. Sometimes one or more cone pigments are missing, other times just one of the cone pigments has a modified light sensitivity.


Regardless of which type of color blindness an individual has, the typical end effect is that the individual has trouble distinguishing between colors–especially red, blue, green, and mixtures of these colors. This can make driving problematic, especially since the current traffic light design uses two of those hard-to-see colors. When it’s bright outside, red lights can look dim. When it’s dark outside, green lights can look white. Usually colorblind drivers employ strategies like noticing the vertical placement of the lights. For example, with a U.S. traffic light: red is on top, followed by yellow in the middle, then green at the bottom. But sometimes their color deficiency impairs their driving perception. This can result in drivers running red lights and sometimes causing accidents.

Clearly, a revamped traffic light is something long overdue both for colorblind drivers and everyone else out on the road. But going back to Taro Ochiai’s new model…Exactly how does it work? After a decade of hard work, Ochiai created a version that tweaks the current traffic light in a way that only colorblind drivers notice. The main feature of his design is that the red light includes a diagonal cross in the middle that emits a red-purple hue.

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Ochiai’s design received the Good Design Award 2011 and has been patented. The most current update available is from a 2016 article featured on The Japan Times. The article stated that Ochiai was reaching out to Japanese police and pushing for a countrywide installation of his new traffic light model, preferably before Tokyo’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.

We eagerly await more news on this groundbreaking traffic light design that would revolutionize driving not only in Japan but also in the rest of the world.

Source: The Japan Times