Don’t you just hate sitting at traffic lights, waiting for the red to turn to green during your morning commute? As the lights turn red, the traffic builds up and the clock keeps ticking, you begin to panic whether you’ll make it to work on time. But could sitting at red lights become a thing of the past?
There are well over 30,000 traffic lights on UK roads, which has increased by a quarter since 2000. It is estimated that traffic lights add two minutes to every car journey made. As a result, this is calculated to cost the UK economy £16bn a year, which equates to 1% of GDP.
The primary purpose of traffic lights is to facilitate the safe movement of cars, helping to avoid collisions and improve safety. There has been calls to reduce the number of traffic lights on UK roads, as an average journey in 2015 would have been 29% quicker in free-flowing conditions.
However, is there a better, safer way of reducing the time wasted sitting at red lights during your journey?
Intelligent Traffic Lights
Currently, most traffic lights run in sequence, and are not designed to react to heavy concentration of vehicles. However, this could be about to change as technology becomes smarter.
Intelligent traffic lights use image-mapping cameras and artificial intelligence to see the world around them. As a result, they’re able to detect where there is a heavy concentration of vehicles, and alter their pattern to help ease congestion.
As well as responding to real-time traffic information, they are also able to differentiate between cars, buses, emergency vehicles and cyclists. This creates a range of potential safety benefits.
Firstly, by identifying emergency services, the traffic lights can alter their pattern to prevent any hold-ups in critical situations. Additionally, as vehicles are moving closer to automated technology, communication between the lights and driverless vehicles may alert these vehicles to upcoming hazards, such as pedestrians crossing the road.
These lights could also have a positive environmental impact. When driving down a road with a flow of traffic lights, vehicles can spend a lot of time braking and accelerating. This is known to increase emissions, cause noise pollution, and can have harmful health effects.
Are Intelligent Traffic Lights currently in operation?
Unfortunately, we are still a little way away from intelligent traffic lights across the UK. However, Milton Keynes has invested £3 million in the technology, which is provided by Vivacity Labs, to trial these lights within the city.
From September 2017, traffic lights across Milton Keynes will be altered to install 2,500 artificial intelligence (AI) powered cameras to monitor traffic around the city. These cameras are expected to be fitted and in operation by September 2018.
Although this technology has not yet been piloted in the UK, pilot tests in US city Pittsburgh, delivered impressive results. The AI traffic lights helped to reduce travel time by 25% and idling time by over 40% (Patel; for IEEE Spectrum, 2016).
Overall, AI traffic lights represent an exciting opportunity to reduce congestion and time spent sitting at red lights, whilst improving the safety of other road users. If they cut down the time for the morning commute, then we’re all for it.