using some simple, non-distracting device in the car
First I want to address this specifically. It's not possible to not be distracted. That's just not a thing. I'm a driver, and I'll make the bold claim that anybody that says otherwise is either
deluded or lying. I've caught myself spacing out trying the turn the radio up, imagine what it'll do to people having to do math on the road.
That said, let's imagine it magically just works. There are still a lot of problems with this idea, because the road is a harsh mistress and there are a lot of variables you have to account for:
- Different roads have different amount of traffic. Small roads could simply never get the right of way because there's not enough people to offset a big 8-lane boulevard.
- Sometimes you have to turn left and cross traffic, so in a standard 4-way intersection you're competing with 3 other streams of cars...
- ... plus pedestrians.
- ... plus public transportation.
- ... plus any lobby group (e.g. taxis, delivery, etc.) that manages to get a special status, either de facto or de jure.
- Emergency vehicles cannot wait.
- And then there's all the ways someone can game the system, including organised crime.
Just figuring out an ideal system (i.e. one where people don't become maniacs and respect the rules) that guarantees everybody can eventually pass within a reasonable time frame without creating undecypherable gridlocks is going to be a big enough headhache.
And if you manage that without it being overtaken by corporations that'll make it worse than broadband in the US (in a nutshell: terrible service, terribler price, terriblest customer service, also don't try to actually compete and offer a better service than us because we'll sue you), in this perfect ideal world, it's still a massively terrible idea.
Why? because it's...
Straight up inegalitarian
I'm sure we can agree the rich have it good enough that we don't need to give them more power. The problem of your system is simply that movement ceases to become a right and becomes a commodity. That's bad. That's really bad. It's bad because it will accentuate inequalities that already exist and put even more weight on already underprivileged communities.
Some people can't afford a car and have to take a bus. Your system will more than likely jack up the prices of bus passes because the busses need to cross intersections. Some people can barely afford owning a car, but now they'll be unable to afford driving it. Now their mobility is reduced to where the bus takes them, the same busses that already got more expensive. For those that can still afford driving, it means reducing their purchasing power, and it means increasing their commute time.
Your system is going to make the cost of going to the movies become prohibitive for a larger number of people. Same for museums, or libraries, and eventually groceries, delivering mail and packages. But more importantly also just going to work or to school.
Your system doesn't answer to a problem (which already is reason enough to not implement it). Instead, it creates one, it creates a new class of people that can't afford going to work anymore, and another class barely above that can't afford leaving their house except to go to work. It simply creates more poverty and exclusion, and that is really, really, really bad.
In comments, the argument has been made that the money you can earn could offset the cost.
Firstly, you might be getting cents or fractions of a cent for every car that snobs you. That's true. But you are also paying to turn your light green in the end, and you have to factor in the cost of energy spent idling unnecessarily. So I wouldn't necessarily assume the economics of crossing an intersection are beneficial to you, let alone the economics of a complete trip.
But even assuming you make any significant (in the statistical sense, i.e. more than crumbs) amount of money stopped at red lights, that means someone loses. And it won't be just the filthy rich. It could also be someone poorer than you, that has to pay the premium because they can't afford to be late to work again and lose their job. And you won't probably not care about them until it's you that has to make haste and spent all the money you've earned so far to go through.
And that's when you account for the other variable of the equation: time. Time is money, we've all heard that, and in a sense work is the literal proof of that. So what is behind an extra half an hour of commute? It's 30 minutes of a sitter's wage. Or it's 30 minutes you don't have to study. Or it's 30 minutes away from your loved ones. It's little things like getting less sleep or not having time for extracurricular activities.
And here we are again, taking about more poverty and exclusion, which is still really, really, really bad.