Hi-tech ‘emergency responder’ traffic management system tested

Anew traffic management system is being tested in the US that, if successful, would not only allow emergency vehicles to avoid collisions with traffic during rapid response, but would enable them to ‘talk’ to each other, receiving real-time information to prioritise routes for police vehicles, fire trucks and ambulances.

Nov 1, 2012
By Paul Jacques

Anew traffic management system is being tested in the US that, if successful, would not only allow emergency vehicles to avoid collisions with traffic during rapid response, but would enable them to ‘talk’ to each other, receiving real-time information to prioritise routes for police vehicles, fire trucks and ambulances.

Installed on vehicles and at traffic signals, the Maricopa County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) SmartDrive system – developed in partnership with University of Arizona researchers and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) engineers – could also be expanded to give city buses, special needs vehicles and other mass transportation providers a clear path through traffic tie-ups in near-real-time.

MCDOT says nearly 13 per cent of the police officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty are killed in vehicle-related incidents and fire engines are involved in ten times as many collisions as other heavy lorries.

The federally-funded and state-supported project is being tested at a site in Anthem, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.

A live demonstration of the SmartDrive system earlier this year included equipping several street intersections and vehicles in Anthem with system components to demonstrate the capabilities of the system to manage emergency vehicles during a mock incident response. Traffic signals at six intersections along a 2.3-mile stretch were retro-fitted with components that allow the signals to ‘talk’ to not only each other, but with at least two other emergency vehicles involved in the demonstration. The SmartDrive system uses a combination of short-range radios, WiFi and Bluetooth to maintain connection.

When the incident alert alarm was given to the system, it began clearing a path of green lights for the mock emergency vehicle – in this case a bus loaded with demonstration observers – while at the same time disclosing the location of the vehicle to coordinators and other vehicles connected to the system. Traffic detection and data collection software were used to display the data live to observers.

Individual emergency vehicles can ‘talk’ to each other via the SmartDrive system, receiving real-time information during an incident response and assigning priority right of way to fire trucks, police vehicles or ambulances, depending on the circumstances of the individual incident.

“It’s the capability to talk to several responding vehicles at once that makes this traffic system unique and it is the focus of our research,” said Larry Head, associate professor of systems and industrial engineering at the University of Arizona College of Engineering.

Operators of vehicles in the system would know which lanes are closed and could select alternate routes to more efficiently reach emergencies, or to find a clear outbound corridor to say, a hospital or other emergency services destination. “If additional emergency vehicles are heading in the direction of the incident, they would be able to find the fastest routes through traffic,” Mr Head explained.

Faisal Saleem, MCDOT ITS engineer, added: “SmartDrive testing will advance connected vehicle technology and make intersections safer for emergency responders. We also hope it will improve response times where seconds can mean the difference between life and death.”

In the future, the SmartDrive technology will allow emergency vehicles to communicate with traffic networks to alert motorists to problems in the area. This will give motorists the option to select alternate routes and avoid the area, helping to prevent secondary accidents that often occur near an accident scene, while the reduced traffic congestion near the incident scene will allow emergency vehicles to more rapidly enter or exit the area.

The MCDOT SmartDrive test site in Anthem is part of a larger, federal research initiative called ITS, or Intelligent Transportation Systems programme. It is supported by the US Department of Transportation as part of a broader series of research initia

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