Those crosswalk countdown timers that let pedestrians know how much time they have left to get across an intersection might actually be leading to more accidents, according to a new study.

Two Canadian researchers just completed a study that suggests that while the signal timers make pedestrians safer, they could be leading to more car-on-car collisions as drivers use them to try to beat the lights.

Researchers Arvind Magesan and Sacha Kapoor observed 1,794 intersections in Toronto between 2004 and 2008. They conducted their study in Toronto because timed signals are now commonplace, having first arrived in November, 2006.

The researchers estimate that the pedestrian timer signals have led to about five fewer collisions between cars and pedestrians per month. But those intersections with the countdown clocks saw 22 more vehicle-on-vehicle collisions per month compared to intersections that didn’t have them.

Magesan was a doctoral student at the University of Toronto when he conducted the study and is now an assistant professor at the University of Calgary. He told CTV Calgary that he suspects that when motorists see the countdown clocks they speed up to beat the light, but their timing can be off and they can crash into other vehicles.

Magesan says the effects of the signals can vary depending on the kind of intersections.

“If you break up the intersections by type, those that are historically more safe, these signals make those intersections more dangerous, whereas those intersections that were in the past more dangerous actually become safer,” he said.

While Toronto is putting the timers at every intersection in the city, the City of Calgary is installing them only at certain intersections. The city says it looks to the Transportation Association of Canada for guidelines to decide where to put the timers.

For the most part, the intersections it chooses for the timers are those then tend to have high volumes of pedestrians, especially seniors and children.

Magesan admits that he too looks at the timers while he’s driving to decide whether to try to get through the intersection or to stop. He wonders if the timers would work better if drivers couldn’t see them but pedestrians could.

“The problem here is that the drivers can see the countdown too and that makes them speed up, whereas if you could just give the information to the pedestrians maybe you solve this whole problem and you wouldn't have the car accidents, while making pedestrian lives safer,” he said.

With a report from CTV Calgary’s Kevin Fleming