Signal Spotlights: What Do Pilots, Surgeons and Traffic Signal Technicians Have in Common?

traffic_signal_spotlights_logoss_may_19_3The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was key to the success of the Allied forces during WWII, dropping more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft. However, before the aircraft achieved greatness the prototype crashed during its first test flight in 1935, killing three. The well-seasoned Army Air Corps test pilot, who had piloted over 60 new aircraft, forgot to remove a locking device before takeoff. Following this incident Boeing implemented a pre-flight checklist and logged 1.8 million hours without incident, proving to the Army they were safe to fly. Due to this success, the pre-flight checklist is now a staple in the field of aviation.

In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) implemented the Surgical Safety Checklist. The checklist was created by Dr. Atul Gawande, a successful surgeon, and a team of seasoned medical professionals. According to findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, post-operative complication rates and death rates fell by 36 percent on average with the use of the checklist. Dr. Gawande, who helped create the checklist, has experienced several surgeries where without the use of the checklist he likely would have killed his patient.

Even seasoned, knowledgeable professionals are human and prone to error. In his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Dr. Gawande says this:

We have accumulated stupendous know-how. We have put it in the hands of some of the most highly trained, highly skilled, and hardworking people in our society. And, with it, they have indeed accomplished extraordinary things. Nonetheless, that know-how is often unmanageable. Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating, across many fields—from medicine to finance, business to government. And the reason is increasingly evident: the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.


Checklists are useful for procedures that must be completed correctly and within a limited time frame. This includes surgery and plane takeoff procedures, but checklists can be just as effective for the municipal signal technician responsible for completing preventive maintenance with limited time and resources. A checklist allows a technician to perform preventive maintenance quickly and provides a record of the maintenance performed.

Preventive Maintenance checklists for traffic signals can be completed with pen and paper, or they can be adapted for the municipality’s work order system or a note-taking app to be used on a phone or tablet. For a sample checklist and more information, check out our Traffic Signal Brief on preventive maintenance.

Additional traffic signal resources can be found on the T2 Center website at:

About Connecticut T2 Center

The Training & Technical Assistance Center at UCONN provides education and technical assistance to members of Connecticut's Transportation and Public Safety Community, including municipal public works directors, street and road maintenance superintendents and staff, city and town engineers, Connecticut Department of Transportation employees, transportation planners and law enforcement professionals serving as legal traffic authorities. We are Connecticut's LTAP Center
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