Curfew draws near for smart traffic

When I was learning to drive, there was only one traffic light in town.
I don't know whether there was a system for triggering the light to change,
but if there was, it didn't work well. You could wait a long time for the light to
turn green.

Late at night, particularly if you were on Main Street
and needed to get home quickly, you could move into
the intersection enough to see up and down Broad
Street. If the coast was clear, you could run the red light.
Today, there are three traffic lights in Luray, Va., all
with sensors that monitor the flow of vehicles and manage
the switching from red to green and back
again.

Most drivers, including 17-year-olds trying
not to miss their curfews ? teenagers still
have curfews, don't they? ? probably don't
think about the software and information
technology that drives the logic of a traffic
light system.

As James Schultz explains in this issue's
cover story, the next generation of traffic systems
is moving well beyond just controlling intersections.
The new systems that are coming online control tasks such as prompting
drivers to pay to use certain lanes or giving them more information on traffic
congestion to make better choices.

It isn't science fiction anymore to think about cars trading information with
one another on their relative speed and distance and then adjusting their movement
accordingly.

The goals are multifaceted: Easing congestion, making the roads safer and
cutting energy consumption are chief among them.
Much lower on the list, I'm sure, is helping
teenagers make their curfew.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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