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What Americans do at stop lights

16 April 2012 3 Comments

Texting? Talking? Eating? Reading? Shaving?

I’ve always been fascinated with what people do at stop lights. I’ve written about this in the past.  here. here. here.  We have around 40 seconds in which we have no task but to wait and be ready for the light to turn green.   Fourty seconds isn’t a lot of time, but in a world of instant-everything I set out to see what people are actually doing at stop lights.

My rules:

  1. I only recorded people I was able to see clearly
  2. I only recorded people at stop lights (not stop signs, or traffic jams)
  3. I only recorded people who were actually be stopped (I did not record people who were pulling up to a stop light as it turned green).
  4. I only recorded people once (even if we stopped at lights multiple times together on the same trip).

 That’s it!

Here is what I observed in 200 drivers in Boulder, Colorado over the past few months:


 And of course the 0.5% who is looking around counting what other people are doing at stop lights and writing about it.


  • Cody Toombs said:

    Very interesting, I’ve kinda thought about doing something similar to this myself, but given where I live I think I’d get depressing results…probably have to give a measurable percentage to spitting or trying to read.

    I’m always asking people why they prefer a certain phone or other things like that. I’m glad there’s other people who are keeping tabs on odd things like this.

  • Larkin (author) said:

    yeah! It was a way of participating in stop light human dynamics, and made me even a bit excited to get in the car. It’s amazing what the thrill of learning can bring to a mundane car ride. I’d be curious what different parts of the world bring to such an experiment. What do different cultures do in their “spare 40 secinds?” Are we all more or less comfortable pausing for a moment than those in other cultures? Of course in many places a stop light is optional, so waiting for one only very rarely happens.

  • Kath said:

    Whoa!! No nose-pickers? And I wonder how many of those were farters? Guess you’d need a methane detection system to figure THAT one out!

    It’s all in the details, ya know?

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