Hate it or love it, smart traffic lights in Shelby Township are here to stay.
As you drive down the same roads you’ve been traveling for years, you may not have noticed the quiet revolution in driving technology.
Since 2006, Macomb County has been integrating smart traffic signal technology into most every light in the county.
Smart traffic signals utilize software and wireless communications to read real-time traffic situations, and can ease the flow of traffic by reducing the amount of time cars spend idling.
All of the data is sent back to a server at the county’s Traffic Operations Center in Mount Clemens. During the day, a team monitors surveillance videos and the data, and can adjust timing of the lights if the intersection is congested or if an accident occurs.
Have the New Signals Raised Crash Rates?
Adam Merchant, Macomb County Road Commission traffic engineer said the smart traffic signals have been implemented because they have been proven to reduce traffic crashes.
Merchant said the technology the county uses has all been tested, regulated and approved by the federal government.
However, not all residents are happy with the technologically advanced traffic signals.
Mike Bommarito of Shelby Township sent Patch a letter explaining that his wife was recently been involved in a crash at the intersection of 23 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue, which is a signal that has smart technology, and blames the collision on the timing.
“Both cars were totaled. My wife goes through that intersection every morning for 10 years, and she was telling me previous to the accident, that the lights malfunctioned,” Bommarito said in his letter.
In the past two weeks, two fatal accidents have been reported at the intersection of 23 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue.
“I have no idea if it’s because of the traffic lights or drivers aren’t educated about smart lights,” said Shelby Township Lt. Thomas Kohl.
Merchant said in the next month, Macomb will implement surveillance video at each intersection, but for now, they can only go back and look at the smart traffic light settings at the time of the crash to determine what signal motorists saw and whether there was a malfunction.
“On the police report, they (police) write the time police get on the scene, but you would actually need a black box in the car to get the exact crash time and surveillance cameras to determine exactly what the driver saw,” he said.
What Do Smart Traffic Signals Look Like
For the most part, motorists will not be able to detect a smart traffic light. New traffic signals with a black shell, rather than yellow, have been placed on 26 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue, but Merchant said it’s because the signals are new and the department opted for black rather than the traditional color.
Other than that, the smart technology had been implemented in some degree in most of the existing signals in Shelby through radio, infrared and microwave technologies.
The most noticeable sign for motorists that a traffic signal has smart technology is the presence of the four-level left turn signal.
Eventually, all left-hand flashing red signals in Michigan will be replaced with the four-level left turn signal. Merchant said Michigan is the only state in America to use that flashing red signal because it was a pilot program tested in the state in the 80s, but never implemented throughout the country.
“The government wants all traffic signals unified throughout the country,” said Merchant.
A detailed description on how to use the new four-level left-turn signals is located at www.rcmcweb.org.
Merchant said the smart traffic signals are a work in progress, and they are continually looking for ways to improve the technology and ease the burden on motorists.
“We’re trying to find what makes the people most comfortable. Our goal is to make it user friendly,” he said. “We have new signals that we have to use and they’ve been found to be safe, and some people are taking a little extra time to get used to them.”
Visit the Macomb County Roads Commission website to submit a question or comment about smart traffic signals.