Detroit Free Press

The nation's first concrete road was installed on Woodward Avenue in Detroit in 1909.

The nation's first four-way traffic signal followed, also on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, in 1920.

So it should be of little surprise that some of the nation's first so-called smart intersections -- which use wireless technology to enable traffic lights and street signs to send warnings to certain cars and trucks -- are being installed in metro Detroit.

The technology, which Ford Motor Co. showed off Thursday in a new 2009 Ford Flex, allows the vehicle to warn drivers if they are approaching the crossing too quickly or are not braking in time to stop, among other uses.

The three smart intersections in operation are at Village and Military roads in Dearborn, on Ford's product development campus, and at two Oakland County sites: 12 Mile and Farmington Road and 10 Mile and Orchard Lake.

"They are transmitting" signals, Gary Piotrowicz, director of traffic safety for Oakland County's road commission, told the Free Press on Thursday. He said the systems cost about $5,000 to $10,000 more than the normal lights and equipment, which run between $75,000 and $125,000.

Ford officials said these systems have the potential to substantially reduce accidents, injuries and fatalities.

That's because about 40% of the nation's traffic accidents, including 20% of all crash-related fatalities, occur at intersections, Priya Prasad, Ford's technical fellow for safety, said Thursday in Dearborn.

Engineers at Ford and a consortium of other auto companies, including General Motors Corp., Honda Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Daimler AG, are testing the technologies in conjunction with government officials, who regulate and maintain the nation's roadways.
The stoplight technology is just one in an emerging category of so-called active safety systems, which are designed to prevent car crashes before they happen.

Ford is also offering adaptive cruise control, which reduces speed based on distance to the vehicle the car is following, and blind-spot alert, which notifies the driver about a nearby vehicle. The automaker said it will unveil yet another active safety technology later this year.
But Mike Shulman, manager of active safety research at Ford, said that the wireless intersection technology has great promise for the future.

He has been working on the wireless communication system ever since the Federal Communications Commission dedicated air space for it in 2006. He said that the Society of Automotive Engineers is also examining what types of standards the industry needs to establish to make the technology a marketplace reality.

While Ford doesn't have any specific plans to offer the technology, Shulman said it's only a matter of time.

"The standards should be in place by the end of next year," he said.


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