Smart tech turns the traffic lights green for emergency vehicles

In emergency situations, anything that causes first responders to slow down potentially effects how quickly they can arrive at the scene.

We’ve trialled connected traffic light tech that could automatically go green to offer clearer routes for ambulances, fire engines and police vehicles. 1 They could also help reduce the risk of an accident caused by first responders driving through red lights.

Congestion, as well, could be reduced with traffic lights sending the red-green timing information to approaching vehicles.

“Whether it’s a fire engine attending a blaze or an ambulance that is en route to an accident, the last thing anyone wants is for these drivers to be caught up among other vehicles waiting for the lights to change.”

Martin Sommer, research engineer,
Automated Driving Europe, Ford of Europe.

The trial was part of the Corridor for New Mobility Aachen-Düsseldorf (ACCorD) project that ran from Jan. 2020, to March this year. The project involved testing automated and connected vehicles and networked infrastructure in highway, urban and rural areas.
In order to test the technology, our researchers used a road with eight consecutive traffic lights in Aachen, Germany, and two stretches with three consecutive traffic lights just outside the city. The Ford Kuga Plug-In Hybrid test vehicle acted as an ambulance and passenger vehicle for the different test scenarios.  

In an emergency response situation, the test vehicle signalled to the traffic lights to turn the light green. Once the vehicle passed through the junction, the traffic lights returned to standard operation.  
In daily driving situations, the test vehicle received the timing information for when the traffic lights turned from red to green and green to red. When the traffic light was red, the vehicle’s speed was reduced well ahead of the junction to time the vehicle’s approach to arrive at the light the moment it turned green, for example from 50 km/h to 30 km/h.

For vehicles encountering a red light, the technology could still help to minimise harsh braking and the time spent at a standstill. The vehicle received the traffic light information well ahead of the junction and slowed down earlier, helping to reduce congestion.

The communication between vehicles and traffic lights is enabled by C-V2X (Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything) technology. Data is exchanged directly between the vehicle and the “X”, which can stand for roadside infrastructure, other vehicles, other road users and traffic features.
1 This vehicle communication feature is being developed for trial purposes only and is currently not available for purchase.