Waiting For Red Lights Takes A Sizable Chunk Out Of The Average Lifespan

We spend a lot of time in our cars. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that people in the United States spend about 17,600 minutes in their vehicles each year, which is just under 300 hours, or about 12 days. Some of the time we spend in our cars accounts for waiting — mainly at traffic lights.

The average wait time at a traffic light depends on several factors, and it all comes down to how each one is programmed. Adam Lough, an engineer with the Utah Department of Transportation, told the Daily Herald the process is based on how traffic flows through a specific area. "We do a lot of traffic counts, morning, noon, night, off-peak, peak. We have systems that can collect data real time," he said. Most traffic lights operate on programmed timers, unlike how they were manually controlled by switches in a control booth when they first hit the streets sometime around 1914, reports History.

The minutes add up

The average length of a red light in an urban area is 60 to 90 seconds, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). So depending on where you live, how often you drive, and other variables, the amount of time you spend waiting at a red light can vary wildly. For instance, one traffic light at the corner of Clinton Road and Route 23 in West Milford, New Jersey, remains red for close to 57 minutes per hour, according to North Jersey.

While tallying a total wait time is a tough number to determine, those over at Best Life did their best to come up with an estimate based on the guess that 20% of the time behind the wheel is spent waiting at a red light along with the AAA's estimate that we spend 17,600 minutes a year driving. Their calculation comes up to a whopping four months of your life if you drive seven days a week for 50 years.

That's just one estimate

David Levinson came up with different set of data. He based his numbers on an experiment calculating a wait time for 60 seconds in an urban area. After compiling data, he came up with several estimated wait times. On the conservative end, the average wait time behind a red light was 75 seconds per day, which comes to 456 minutes per year. Using this information, and basing it on the assumption that the average person drives 7 days a week for some 50 years, that number falls somewhere around 2.2 weeks.

Considering the average lifespan for people living in the U.S. is 76.1 years (via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), even the most conservative estimate — which is equal to the amount of time we might spend on a nice vacation — seems like too much time to be stuck at a red light. All the more reason for some kind of "smart" traffic signals that might help the flow of traffic, which hopefully won't be too far in our future (via Time).