A Closer Look at Smart Traffic Lights

At some point, every single driver in America has been frustrated by traffic light technology. Why wait at an intersection for several minutes when you’re clearly the only person on the road?

Traffic lights have used automatic timers for the last century. Ideally, if you hit them right, you can proceed down the road without excessive stopping. That’s not always how it goes, though. Unless the lights are properly timed, you might find yourself waiting ages at an intersection, then barely miss the green light at another.

While some automatic timers and traffic light networks can be altered, especially during major traffic events and outages, they’re nowhere near smart traffic light technology. Is it time to start using smart traffic lights everywhere?

What are smart traffic lights?

Smart traffic light technology proposes to alter traffic light signals by connecting them to artificial intelligence and “big data.” Some companies, like Surtrac, “claim to be able to reduce travel times by 25 percent, signal wait times by 40 percent, stops by 30 percent and emissions by 20 percent.”

Instead of using preset timers based on historical averages, smart traffic lights use automatic sensors at intersections. They update the traffic light timing in real time, based on the cars that are actually on the road at any given moment. Therefore, if there’s an event, accident or other situation that drastically alters traffic flow, smart traffic lights can automatically update the timing to keep things moving. In fact, they may even be able to communicate with cars to provide information about what’s up ahead.

Benefits of smart traffic light technology

As you can imagine, using smart traffic lights could drastically reduce traffic congestion anywhere, from rural towns to major metropolitan areas. That’s great news for anyone who gets frustrated or anxious when they’re stuck at a stoplight. Plus, they could reduce overall travel time.

However, one of the most impressive benefits is the environmental effect. According to the article linked above, smart traffic light manufacturers claim that if they’re widely adopted across the country, they could have a massive environmental benefit. More specifically, adopting smart light technology is the environmental equivalent of replacing 20 million vehicles with electric vehicles. That’s a major reduction in emissions—and since climate change continues to be a dire concern, smart traffic lights provide a beacon of hope.

The cost of smart traffic lights

Right now, the cost of installing smart traffic lights is about $20,000 per intersection—a vast expenditure for most municipalities. State and federal grants may be able to reduce the costs. Since the lights will reduce air pollution, environmental programs should be able to help fund the project.

Additionally, some smart traffic light companies suggest offering a subscription-based traffic service, using their up-to-the-minute traffic data, to help drivers avoid traffic jams. That could also defray the costs.

Ultimately, smart traffic lights provide a practical solution based on modern technology. Automatic timers have gotten us through the first 100 years of cars on the road. It’s time to upgrade.

For more information about smart traffic lights, call Signal Equipment Company South today.