Is This the End of Red Lights?

Category: Auto

The wait for a traffic signal to turn green can seem like eternity. Worse still is being stopped by a red light every half-mile. These seemingly minor annoyances can add up to make drivers anxious, irritable, and prone to take bigger risks that lead to accidents. If drivers had better information about traffic signals, the roads would be more tranquil and safer. Technology that enables this sort of thing is already available. Here's how to tap into those tools...

Kinder Traffic Signals, Please

Cities have managed networks of traffic signals from central offices for several decades. Monitoring the status of individual traffic signals is routine now. So is coordinating the cycles of traffic signals so that a car cruising at a steady, safe speed will seldom see a red light. All that’s needed is a way to share traffic signal data with passing cars. That’s the realm of V2I – Vehicle to Infrastructure communications.

Automaker Audi AG is a pioneer in V2I. The company first deployed its Traffic Light Information system in select models in 2017; today, the technology is built into all models. Audi has partnered with Traffic Technology Services, Inc., to enable TLI in six U.S. States and the District of Columbia through TTS’ Personal Signal Assistant system. More States will be implementing V2I and other smart car technologies.

Using traffic signal data transmitted via LTE cellular service, the Audi/TTS system calculates a range of speeds that will get a car green lights at the next two signal-controlled intersections. A dashboard display shows the ideal speed in an animated icon called the Green Light Optimisation Speed Advisory. Audi includes this green light feature in its Audi Connect concierge service, which costs $199 for six months. BMW, Daimler Benz, and Cadillac are also developing green light optimizers.

No more red lights with Connected Signals

But you don't need to buy an expensive luxury vehicle to play in this pool. A free smartphone app called EnLighten, by Connected Signals, provides similar traffic light data, and helps drivers plan their best routes.

Sailing through green lights all day will save more than drivers’ nerves. Brake pads will last longer. A car that knows it will be stopped at a long light may even shut itself off to save fuel, and restart before the light turns green. If you've driven a BMW, you'll be familiar with this feature. The car shuts down the engine as soon as you come to a halt, and resumes when you take your foot of the brake. Sometimes that's counterproductive, when you're only going to be stopped for a few seconds, so the Connected Signals tech should help the car make smarter decisions in this regard.

Enlighten traffic light app

Cities are eager to share the data of their traffic signal networks in exchange for car makers’ data about consumers’ travel patterns. Such data can help cities plan road expansions and traffic management projects.

"Vehicle to Everything" Communication is Next

Traffic lights are just one small piece of a larger puzzle. V2X – Vehicle to Everything – is a fast-growing discipline that encompasses infrastructure (V2I), other vehicles on the road (V2V), and more categoroies. Eventually, autonomous cars will rely on data from many nearby objects to plot efficient routes, cruise at optimal speeds, and respond instantly to emergencies.

Cars will warn each other when they are changing lanes, and automatically pay parking meters when they pull into parking spaces. Road lane markers will be detectable by smart cars even when covered by snow. Smart signs will be read by smart cars, which will repeat signage warnings to drivers who cannot see the signs.

The combination of autonomous cars, ubiquitous connectivity, and big data promises a brave new world where drivers become less and less involved in the process of getting from here to there. How about you? Would you rather drive a smart car that thinks for you, or a "dumb" classic from days gone by?

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Is This the End of Red Lights?"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

01 Mar 2019

We have a Cadillac with all of the sensing options. I find that in inclement weather, they are unreliable because they cannot pickup the road markings. I find that I have to be more diligent driving with them on then when they are off. It will be a very long time before we have truly autonomous vehicles.

Posted by:

Mark H.
01 Mar 2019

There is one issue that no amount of tech can resolve and that is the driver. Back in the 1973 I found that I could drive just below the speed limit and go 25 miles in Massachusetts without hitting a red light. In the 90's, I showed my kids that it was possible to drive on Virginia Beach Blvd from Norfolk to the beachfront at the speed limit without hitting a red light. The catch was that was done around midnight.
I watch drivers every day that seem to think that racing from one light to the next will help avoiding the reds. Until 100% of vehicles become autonomous, humans will still mess it up.

Posted by:

Greg C
01 Mar 2019

Perhaps if Traffic Engineers shared more info with us we could better adjust our driving to minimize delays and fuel consumption. For instance, the traffic light at my nearby intersection seem to have both short and long wait cycles, with no explanation. And another- does timing change to facilitate commuter travel in opposite directions at different times of the day?
I believe there are a few obvious reasons why they do NOT share info:
1- The "through" speed is set for emergency vehicles and is above the legal limit.
2- Settings change frequently due to change in priorities or a power failure. They would have to respond to calls if the system did not work as advertised.
3- Some jurisdictions do NOT make use of the available technology and do NOT want to admit this poor performance to the public.

Posted by:

David Lagesse
01 Mar 2019

What gripes me is waiting for a red light when there are no other cars coming from any other direction and it should be perfectly safe to cross the intersection or make a turn. But I have to wait for an illuminated red-tinted light fixture to become darkened.

Posted by:

Joe Lancaster
01 Mar 2019

To follow your security articles: Similar to smarthomes, any talk of security? Such a hacked system could cause chaos and death.

Should the network go down on part of the network the lights can be programmed to flash red or if complete power loss and are dark, require stopping as now.

Posted by:

Roelly Njarwicz
01 Mar 2019

Oh, great, another high tech gadget for cars that will break and cost a FORTUNE to diagnose and fix.

Posted by:

01 Mar 2019

Nice. But the only problem that I see is I am always bringing up the rear of the pack. Which means I will be the one always getting caught by the red light.

And before anyone says, "Well, then that would put me 'at the front of the pack' when it turns green - forget it. There is always someone who refuses to be behind 'anyone, for any reason' and will pass me, at breakneck speed, only to slow down once they are in the lead. Repeat with the next guy and the next.

....meanwhile, there will always be the one new leader that will be way too slow for the other leader behind him and will then get into the next lane and drive along side of them.....but only just so fast an far so nobody else can squeeze through them to become the new leader.....

Where's my flying care.....just realized how to get around all this.....Amazon!

That's right....if they can get drones to deliver packages, they should be able to modify it for "uber air"....stay tuned....

Posted by:

01 Mar 2019

Give me a "dumb" car any day of the week. I drove my daughters SUV the other day and it has some sort of "auto-correcting" feature that tries to steer you back into your original lane if you try to change lanes without using a signal. A car almost side-swiped me and I tried to change lanes, car fought against me. There are WAY too many specific instances where automation cannot figure out what to do right now for me to embrace automation in that arena.

Posted by:

01 Mar 2019

Keeping traffic flowing with no lights assumes you have the road infrastructure to accommodate the traffic in the first place. Absolutely wouldn't work in large metro areas where there are too many cars everywhere, in all the "alternate"routes. It would be mayhem in Baltimore.

Posted by:

01 Mar 2019

For everyday work driving I probably would opt for the newer cars with all the gadgets. The only problem for me is that they all look alike. For a casual afternoon drive, give me a 1956 Chevrolet Corvette Midnight Blue with fuel injection and two roofs; a real babe magnet!!!

Posted by:

Brian B
02 Mar 2019

This is technology for the sake of it. Money would be better spent on technology to reduce the road carnage, for example:-
Stop vehicles from running red lights.
Stop vehicles from tailgating.
Stop vehicles from exceeding the speed limits.
Stop vehicles from moving unless occupied seats are belted up.
And more. The technology is already available and fitted to many vehicles. Lets put it all together and make it law for manufacturers to fit it to all new vehicles.

Posted by:

02 Mar 2019

...but how could the Traffic Light Information system possibly account for that 'turkey' in front of me, who is sitting at the red light texting? I call them 'turkeys' because you have to honk your horn to shoo them forward after the light changes to green.

Posted by:

02 Mar 2019

I'd much rather drive a dumb clasic.Much more interesting, fun, and good food for the brain and reflexes. It is being made very clear every day that the less we use our brain the dumber and lazier we get. Warnings are great, and so is automation to some extent and in some cases but a lot of thought should be given to everything automatic doing everything for us. For instance, what hapens if the automatics fail? We have already witnessed the mess at airports, railwys, other transport, hospitals and even government and security.

Posted by:

02 Mar 2019

I'm afraid this is an example of trying to do a better job of doing the wrong thing.

North American roads have a number of poor design features. Traffic lights cause frustration and lead to huge traffic jams in cities. There is a cheap and easy solution that requires no sophisticated electronics and no expensive maintenance - it's called a roundabout.

And when you've dealt with the traffic lights, you can deal with the 4-way stops. Same issue - dumb and dangerous design. Replace with roundabouts or decide which road has priority. If you need traffic calming in residential areas, there are cheap and effective methods that are much safer.

Posted by:

02 Mar 2019

Freddy - you are so right - roundabouts would work in many "low traffic" locations.

Posted by:

02 Mar 2019

I third the comments from Freddy and KD. Actually KD roundabouts also work very well on high volume roads too.
I'll also add the European rule of yield to the right at uncontrolled intersections rather than the proliferation of stops signs and 4 way stops on low volume roads and minor roads yielding to major roads. Full stops on low volume roads are a complete waste of fuel.
Only trouble is that these rules actually require the drivers to pay attention and actually drive - major failing of most N. American drivers. AI and V2V could alleviate some of this but would only work if ALL vehicles have the capability - not happening any time soon.

Posted by:

02 Mar 2019

Having driven in the US - a LOT - I lived there for several years, my own view is that their traffic control is currently the least helpful I've ever known. The four-way stop is ludicrous; regardless how you interpret the rules, NOBODY knows who has priority - in theory, everyone stays stationary forever. There are some roundabouts - 'rotaries' (or 'traffic circles' in some places) but so rare that most drivers have no idea how to deal with them. Being able turn right on a red light sounds wonderful - except it is decidedly dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists. Overtaking (passing) on both sides is similarly downright dangerous. It wouldn't be necessary is people didn't hog lanes.
Traffic lights are only as good as their sensing and programming - which in many casea, both in the US, the UK, and many other countries, is simply not good enough. "Intelligent" cars are a long way off; the current level of technology is nowhere near good enough to allow it unfettered control. It IS good enough to act as a warning and advice sytem, (as my car has for lane-change) although auto engine-stop, auto-lights, and wipers are handy, *I* remain in control. Yes, auto-braking to avoid collisions is good, but the AI simply is not good enough to allow AI control much further than that.
Quite honestly, the best answer would be for motorists to drive considerately and sensibly, instead of selfishly and competitively - but I can see icicles developing in Satan's domain long before that happens.

Posted by:

Brian B
02 Mar 2019

Freddy, KD and fbgcai- Roundabouts are only a short term solution. They will always reach traffic saturation point, and they definitely do not work in high traffic volume situations.

Have a look at Exit 16 on the M5 in the UK as an example. The roundabout has 3 lanes (4 in places) and sports no less than 8 sets of traffic lights. It is the only way vehicles can get on the roundabout, with traffic so heavy, it has to be stopped to allow this access. When you have to install traffic lights on a roundabout, the whole point of a roundabout is made redundant.

If you want an idea of the necessary upgrades to keep up with traffic volumes, Have a look here.

Road engineers will not admit failure. Absolute insanity.

Posted by:

R.S. Elam
03 Mar 2019

Sounds to me like I can do anything I want in my DUMB car and the smart cars will all watch out for me.

Posted by:

Pete in NC
03 Mar 2019

What we are seeing is something I've heard called "Primary/Backup inversion". When we start relying on backup systems to do our job, but they are not perfect.

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