Red, yellow, green … and white? Smarter vehicles could mean big changes for the traffic light

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. do away with (something) / du əˈweɪ wɪθ / (phrasal v.) – to remove or stop using something

    In an effort to reduce plastic waste, the government plans to do away with single-use plastic bags in all grocery stores.

  2. rollout / ˈroʊlˌaʊt / (n.) – the act of introducing a new product, service, or activity, making it available to many people across different places

    The company announced the rollout of its new software update to all its customers.

  3. reimagine / ˌri ɪˈmædʒ ɪn / (v.) – to think about something in a new, different, and creative way

    The city council is reimagining the park to include more green spaces and relaxing areas.

  4. deployment / dɪˈplɔɪ mənt / (n.) – the act of making things available for use

    The deployment of solar panels on rooftops across the city is part of the government’s initiative to promote renewable energy.

  5. premature / ˌpri məˈtʃʊər / (adj.) – happening or done too soon, especially before the appropriate or desired time

    Meg regretted her premature decision to resign without looking for other job opportunities.


Read the text below.

Researchers are exploring ways to use features in modern cars, such as GPS, to make traffic safer and more efficient. Eventually, the upgrades could do away entirely with the red, yellow, and green lights of today, ceding control to driverless cars.

Henry Liu, a civil engineering professor who is leading a study through the University of Michigan, said the rollout of a new traffic signal system could be a lot closer than people realize. “The pace of artificial intelligence progress is very fast, and I think it’s coming,” he said.

The advent of connected and automated vehicles, though, has presented a world of new possibilities for traffic signals.

Among those reimagining traffic flows is a team at North Carolina State University led by Ali Hajbabaie, an associate engineering professor. Rather than doing away with today’s traffic signals, Hajbabaie suggests adding a fourth light, perhaps a white one, to indicate when there are enough autonomous vehicles (AVs) on the road to take charge and lead the way.

“When we get to the intersection, we stop if it’s red and we go if it’s green,” said Hajbabaie, whose team used model cars small enough to hold. “But if the white light is active, you just follow the vehicle in front of you.” The key would be making sure that it’s universally adopted like the current signals are.

Using such an approach would be years away, as it would require 40% to 50% of vehicles on the road to be self-driving in order to work, Hajbabaie acknowledged.

Waymo spokesperson Sandy Karp pointed out that the self-driving car subsidiary of Google’s parent company launched a fully autonomous ride-sharing service in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, even without the addition of a fourth traffic light.

“While it is good at this early stage of AV development that people are thinking creatively about how to facilitate the safe deployment of safe AVs, policymakers and infrastructure owners should be careful about jumping too soon on AV-specific investments that may turn out to be premature or even unnecessary,” Karp said in an email to The Associated Press.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Do you believe that using modern car features like GPS to replace traditional traffic lights would significantly enhance traffic safety and efficiency? Why or why not? What risks do you think the removal of traffic lights may pose (ex. confusion among drivers, chaos on the road)? Discuss.
  • Ali Hajbabaie suggests adding a fourth light, perhaps a white one, to indicate that there are enough AVs on the road. Do you think this would be a beneficial change in the future? Why or why not? Would you prefer a new light than doing away with them altogether? Why? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Sandy Karp said that it’s good that people are thinking about and preparing for the safe use of AVs, but they should also be careful not to make premature or unnecessary investments in AVs. In your opinion, is it still too early to take action about the deployment of AVs? Why or why not? When do you think is the right time to start developing rules and safety standards for AVs? Discuss.
  • What do you think would happen if new traffic rules are prematurely implemented (ex. the action might just be a waste of money, the new rules might be ineffective)? Discuss.