Connected car pilot program launched to study benefits of traffic signal countdown system


A unique scientific study to help determine the real-world safety and fuel-efficiency benefits of connecting traffic lights to vehicles is being launched in California.

While auto makers and the federal government believe that providing real-time traffic signal information can reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and provide significant safety benefits, government and industry need reliable on-road data confirming these benefits to guide their future decision-making.

Connected Signals Inc., an innovative startup that brings live traffic signal information to drivers, together with Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and BMW North America, in cooperation with the City of San José, has launched a project to help determine the real-world benefits of letting drivers know when the traffic lights ahead of them will change.

To help address the current lack of such data, the City of San Jose Department of Transportation will support the six-month study by providing real-time information from the city’s traffic management system. Together with predictive information about upcoming changes developed by Connected Signals, this data should help participating drivers reach more lights while they are green, and warn them to slow down approaching lights that will be red.

Instruments in participating vehicles will let ANL’s experts analyze how providing this information affects safety and fuel consumption. It is hoped that the results of this study, which is supported in part by the US Department of Energy’s Small Business Vouchers Pilot program, will help shape policy, infrastructure, and technology adoption for connected and autonomous vehicles in the coming years.

BMW drivers in the San Jose area are being recruited to take part in the research. Participating drivers must regularly drive in San José, and have an iPhone 5s or later as well as a 2008 or later model vehicle. Owners of BMWs capable of supporting BMW Apps participating in the study will have access to an in-dash display of traffic signal information, while drivers of other makes of cars will have information provided through a non-distracting combination of visual and audio indicators on their iPhones. Drivers will follow their normal driving routine, running a special version of Connected Signals’ free EnLighten iPhone App or of the BMW Apps integrated version of EnLighten. After a short start-up period to observe drivers’ current patterns, the app will provide a variety of traffic light information, including recommended speeds to catch green lights. Each participant will be provided with a plug-in data collection device that will collect vehicle performance information during the study. Data will be maintained in strict confidentiality during the study, and all collected data will be anonymized at the end of the research.

“There’s general consensus among auto makers and the federal government that providing signal information can reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10%, while resulting in significant safety benefits,” said David Etherington, president of Connected Signals. “Now, we’re going to test in the field how reliable, on-road data may affect people’s driving habits, and measure its impact on road safety and fuel efficiency in San José.”

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About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).