Recht und Ordnung. Law and Order. There’s nothing that a German loves more – or at least that’s the stereotype that everybody spreads around. While there apparently are many ways to earn the ire of an old German Grandmother – the quickest way (so the legend goes) is to Jaywalk i.e cross a red light. While waiting at a pedestrian crossing might be irritating – the majority of people would be even more irritated if they knew that they were using the traffic light the wrong way.
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The Myth Of The Pressable Button
*Disclaimer * – There are multiple models of pedestrian traffic lights and they all vary from city to city. The functions described here might not apply to your location.
Standing in front of a pedestrian crossing and waiting for the light to turn green is just a mild daily annoyance – unless its raining and then we can’t wait for the light to switch green fast enough. Pressing the button of a pedestrian traffic light is a lot like pressing an elevator button. Even though you know the light isn’t going to switch green any faster (it really wont) – you still end up pressing it at least a million times.
But what if I told you that it doesn’t do anything at all?
Have you ever wondered what those 3 Black dots in the yellow circle mean? Well they aren’t some fancy decoration – the symbol is actually worn by “visually impaired” (aka blind) people in Germany (and Austria) to make others around them aware of the fact that they cannot see. While the origins of the 3 dots are unclear – some say they are meant to symbolize braille – they do have a specific meaning. 2 black dots on top, and 1 on the bottom mean that the person wearing the symbol is visually impaired, 1 black dot on the top, and 2 on the bottom show that the person is deaf.
It’s Not A Fake “Button”
So what’s the point of having this symbol on the button for the pedestrian traffic light – especially since a blind person won’t see it anyway? Well that’s the point! It’s not mean for the visually impaired, its meant for the people who can see. It shows us that we don’t need to press the “button” – in fact there isn’t even a button to press, there’s no sensor or anything on the front side of the panel. Still, everyone that waits at the traffic light magically presses the symbol and expects the light to turn green.
But hold on! Just because there’s no button on the front side, doesn’t mean there isn’t any button at all. As ive mentioned before there are various models, but pedestrian traffic crossings lights fall into 2 main categories known as GDT – Großflächen-DruckTaster (Large Area Push Button) and VDT – Verdeckter-DruckTaster (Hidden Push Button). The VDT model – as the name implies has a button hidden underneath for the blind person (in fact all models that ive encountered in Berlin had a button on the bottom, even the newer versions)
Explaining The Symbols
This button contains some interesting information about the traffic crossing
From left to right: Crossing with additional requisition, Simple Crossing, Crossing with a Pedestrian Island, Crossing with a Railway Crossing, Crossing in 2 Directions
Despite what many would think now, the button doesn’t make the light turn green any faster. What it does do is vibrate when the light turns green, and in some cases it even prolongs the time that the light stays green. quite useful if you are trying to cross the street with children.
And in case you needed more proof – heres a Crosswalk button without its cover – and you can clearly see that theres nothing behind it! The only button that gets pressed inside is the one underneath.
So the next time you’re standing in front of a pedestrian traffic light – don’t bother pushing the non existent button. But do give the secret button a push and see what happens.
Red Light Fines – And A Very German Lifehack
And before we end this educational story – let us gift you with another vital piece of information. Crossing a red pedestrian light in Germany is not a crime – it is considered an “Ordnungswidrigkeit” – a minor offense / administrative offense akin to a parking ticket. You can however get a €5 fine if you are caught by the police crossing a pedestrian red light. If you cross a red pedestrian light and cause an accident, the fine is doubled to €10. Again – the police have to catch you in the act though.
There is one trick that you can employ to cross the street with a red light without risking a fine though: The law / fine only applies if you cross the street between the white lines of a pedestrian crossing. If you cross the street during a red light (without causing an accident), all you need to do is walk outside of the white lines and you will be all clear – legally speaking.
*PS* – As was pointed out in the comments bellow – id like to make clear that not all traffic light buttons are useless. Some specifically say “Bitte Drücken” – Please Push. You will need to push the Button or else the pedestrian light wont turn green. But unless the button says you should press it, chances are high it wont do anything.