Cars in DC ‘know’ when traffic lights will turn green

WASHINGTON — Few things are more infuriating than being stopped at a red light, and being honked at because the traffic signal just turned green.

In Washington, D.C., new smart city technology enables cars to communicate with the District’s traffic signal network, in an effort to smooth commutes and reduce aggressive driving.

Starting this week, drivers of select new Audis who approach more than 600 intersections in the District, can know when the light will turn green, by glancing at their dashboards.

“The technology allows drivers to see a countdown of the number of seconds remaining before a signal turns green, when they’re stopped at a traffic light,” said Anupam Malhotra, director of connected vehicles and data, for Audi of America.

For a driver stuck in traffic, but unable to see a traffic light – for instance, when blocked by a large truck – having the countdown clock on the dashboard can lower a driver’s tension levels.

Washington is the seventh city teaming with Audi, to share data, in an attempt to improve the driving experience, using what is called Vehicle-to-Infrastructure, or V2I technology.

“DDOT has a real-time traffic signal data feed, which includes information about signal phases and timing, that is fed to Audi (and its partner, Traffic Technology Services) via a secure connection,” said Terry Owens, spokesperson for the District’s Department of Transportation.

“There is no financial relationship,” said Owens. “It is an information sharing relationship, where DDOT shares signal timing data and Audi and TTS share insights they glean from using the data.”

Malhotra said the technology allows drivers to “be more aware and knowledgeable about things that can impact your drive time, and time in the vehicle, and be more in control of what you decide to do with that time.”

The dashboard information can lessen the number of cases of drivers trying to “beat” the traffic light before it turns red.

“The countdown will appear in your dashboard, which is an indication to the driver that they don’t need to be accelerating at the last minute, or screeching to a halt,” Malhotra said. “It can be a much more comfortable ‘release the accelerator and slow down to a stop.’”

Malhotra said the data gathered at the intersections are “completely anonymized,” but DDOT will be able to use it to tweak its traffic signal coordination.

The Traffic Light Information is available on certain 2017 and 2018 Audi models, for drivers who subscribe to the company’s PRIME connected car feature.

While Audi is the first carmaker to have vehicles supporting the real-time traffic light information, Malhotra expects others will offer it eventually.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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