Homeland Security and Public Safety

Traffic Safety for First Responders Gets High-Tech Makeover

Transportation systems use technology to improve the safety of first responders and the public.

The belief that technology can improve roadway safety is driving public- and private-sector officials to test intelligent transportation systems that allow vehicles to communicate with the transportation infrastructure. And some of the biggest beneficiaries of these efforts could be first responders speeding to an emergency scene and the motorists they encounter en route.

In 2009, an estimated 33,403 emergency vehicles were involved in accidents, 126 of which were fatal, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Systems are being developed to let emergency vehicles and passenger cars interact with traffic signals and other transportation infrastructure in ways that get emergency crews on-site quickly while safeguarding other motorists. One such project, for example, seeks to make intersections safer, while another will alert motorists when an emergency vehicle is approaching.

“The bigger goal from a public agency perspective is to improve the safety drastically as well as improve the mobility,” said Faisal Saleem, intelligent transportation systems branch manager for the Maricopa County, Ariz., Department of Transportation.

Pre-empting Traffic Signals

Maricopa County is using dedicated short-range communications to improve safety at intersections. As part of a research project through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s IntelliDrive program (formerly the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration initiative), the county is equipping six intersections and numerous emergency vehicles with technology that allows them to exchange information.

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