Just when I think I've seen it all.

The first tri-colored, four-directional traffic light was first implemented in Michigan back in 1920.

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104 years later and we're still using it. Heck, it's even part of our vernacular! Haven't you heard people say things like "Green means go?" or "give it the greenlight", as in move forward with a project.

There's even a children's game called Red Light, Green Light. So, why the sudden need for change I wonder?

According to Traffic Technology Today (that's a thing?) the driving force behind researchers push to add a 4th color/light to modern day traffic lights has to do with self-driving cars, of course!

What's the New Color?

If we were to add a new color to current traffic signals experts are calling for it to be white. In this "white phase" self-driving/autonomous vehicles would dictate traffic flow and not human drivers.

What does this mean? Ali Hajbabaie, Associate Professor of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at North Carolina State University explains,

This concept we’re proposing for traffic intersections...taps into the computing power of autonomous vehicles (AVs) themselves...Red lights will still mean stop. Green lights will still mean go. And white lights will tell human drivers to simply follow the car in front of them

traffic light indiana

It's all about efficiency! At intersections where both AVs and human drivers are on the road the "white light" will signal that all the AVs at that intersection are talking to each other. Adds Traffic Technology Today,

When enough AVs are approaching the intersection, this would activate the white light. The white light is a signal that AVs are coordinating their movement to facilitate traffic through the intersection more efficiently. Any non-automated vehicles – those being driven by a person – would simply be required to follow the vehicle in front of them

If there are no AVs at the intersection then the traffic light will revert to the classic Red-Yellow-Green system.

While I don't entirely love this proposed concept because I'm human and fear change, I think it does actually make some sense. Whether it's a new color or an entirely differently designed traffic signal, like it or not I think we're going to have to accommodate autonomous vehicles in one way or another.

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