Well, no, it’s not as straight-forward as that.  This is a story about the Law of Unintended Consequences.

It seems the whole country is in a pretty big push to go green.  Sometimes it’s to combat global warming Global Warming, sometimes it’s done as part of a job stimulus thing, sometimes it’s just to spend less on the electric bill.

One of the places for that last one is replacing light bulbs.  Compact Fluorescent bulbs (CF) are generally great replacements for incandescent bulbs.  A couple of drawbacks are that the light is a different color, and they don’t handle being on a dimmer circuit too well (although that might be changing).

The next step in nifty light technology is LED bulbs.  These guys are still early in their lives, and the prices are real high.  But they’re probably going to win out over CF bulbs.  LED bulbs can be color-corrected, handle dimmers pretty well, last forever (practically), and use up almost no electricity.

There is one down-side, though.  They’re not hot.  When I say they’re cool, I mean it both ways.

This is good for people who decide to save money by not heating their houses.  This is bad – real bad – for traffic lights.

Think about the functionality of a traffic light.  Its purpose is, surprisingly, not to display red, yellow, and green at the correct time.  It has to do those things, yes, but it has to communicate those colors to the driver.  A traffic light in the middle of a cornfield doesn’t do much good for the intersection a half-mile away.  A traffic light hidden by trees doesn’t help the drivers know what to do.

And an LED traffic light that ices over in a storm so people can’t see the colors is as useful as a chocolate teapot.

They’re working on solutions to the problem, including weather shields and heater elements.  And manually cleaning the snow off the traffic lights.

I have a suggestion, folks.  Leave the energy savings to the southern states.  Go ahead and put incandescent bulbs back in.  Save a life.

Snow-covered traffic light from fatal accident in Illinois (Photo from Oswego IL police)

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