Most people are aware of the dangers of distracted driving, but they may not know that distraction at traffic signals may be the cause of many delays and headaches for commuter, according to the Austin Transportation Department (ATD).

What many drivers may see as a fault in Austin’s signal system – a green light being too short – may be caused by distracted drivers failing to pull up to an intersection when the signal is green. In fact, a single distracted driver can cause a traffic signal with detection to turn red early, causing delays as long as several minutes and endless frustration for drivers waiting at traffic signals.

The ATD is aware of the backups at these signals that may be due to distracted drivers and hopes that heightened awareness of how they work will increase mobility and smooth traffic flow.

Although the current City of Austin Hands-Free Ordinance allows texting at a full stop, texting and other distractions may cause delays for other drivers at intersections

Here’s how the signals work:

Because many of Austin’s traffic signals operate using detection technology, they register when a vehicle is waiting at an intersection and provide or extend a green signal.

Distracted driving can throw a wrench in this system. For example, several cars are stopped at a red signal. The signal turns green, but the driver of a vehicle a few cars back from the light is not paying attention and fails to notice the green signal. Since the driver does not pull forward and enter the detection area in time, the traffic signal gets the impression that no one is waiting and will turn yellow, and then red, sooner. The result? Honking, angry gestures and frustration with Austin’s traffic signal timing.

ATD is asking drivers to be alert at these intersections to help prevent traffic backup.