New tech gets green light for stoplights

Emergency workers daily face a choice on State Road 135 — stop behind the backups or cross into oncoming traffic to get through.

And even when they can get through traffic, they worry that someone won’t hear the siren or see the lights and will pull out in front of them at an intersection.

Those concerns led the White River Township Fire Department to spend $125,000 on new stoplight technology that alerts drivers and controls traffic when an ambulance or fire truck is coming.

The technology has been installed at 11 stoplights along State Road 135, between Stones Crossing and County Line roads and along State Road 37 at Smith Valley, Fairview and County Line roads. Four more are coming to intersections on Morgantown and Smith Valley roads.

Here’s how the technology works: Devices installed in the stoplight and on the emergency vehicle use GPS to track when a vehicle is coming. As it approaches, it triggers a signal on the stoplight to change the light to green for the ambulance or fire truck and red for everyone else. A flashing white light at the signal also will alert drivers that the emergency vehicle is coming.

You might have seen the lights in use at some Indianapolis intersections or other cities across the country, White River Fire Chief Jeremy Pell said.

The goal is to prevent accidents, protecting both drivers and emergency workers, and to improve response times, he said.

A ladder truck driver approached Pell with the idea and then led the effort to get the technology paid for and installed. Pell said the department has been working to get the lights for more than a year but had to get approvals from the state, get the devices installed at the lights and in emergency vehicles, and then train emergency workers on what the system can and can’t do and the importance of still driving cautiously.

Emergency workers, especially fire truck and ambulance drivers, knew the technology was needed because of multiple close calls. Recently, a vehicle hit the side of a fire truck, even after the firefighter driving managed to stop when seeing the car coming. The stoplight change is meant to fix that, since drivers will have a red light and would follow the traffic signals as they typically would. The flashing light also will let them know an emergency vehicle is coming, Pell said.

As cars have gotten more soundproof and drivers are distracted with cellphones, music, etc., emergency workers have noticed their sirens and lights aren’t as effective.

“Sometimes it’s a function of not knowing what you don’t know,” Pell said. “If you can’t hear it, don’t look in the mirror and see the fire truck or ambulance or police car, you just don’t know.”

The lights also are meant to help with traffic flow. If the light turns green as the fire truck or ambulance approaches, that could help clear up the traffic backup crews often face, allowing them to get through faster.

Over the years and with more development, more traffic has come to State Road 135 and State Road 37. When officials learned a new Walmart was coming to State Road 135, they knew both traffic and their calls would increase, Pell said. The fire department has asked Walmart for a contribution to help pay for the new devices.

In the past, emergency workers would get onto State Road 135, where two of three fire stations are located, and get stuck behind traffic at stoplights. Traffic had no place to go, since all the lanes were full; and, in some places, medians would not allow turns. Pell said emergency workers had a choice: wait or drive onto the other side of the road, into oncoming traffic, which is more dangerous.

“This is going to be a tremendous help to the community, as well as us,” Pell said. “It’s going to give us the green light.”

He said that will help reduce response times by minutes, which could help save someone’s life, especially since about 75 percent of runs are for medical issues.

“That extra five minutes can save a huge portion of someone’s heart or someone’s brain when they are having a stroke,” Pell said.

Other emergency vehicles, such as police cars, can use the technology if they buy the devices that go into their vehicles, he said.

At a glance

New stoplight technology will allow emergency vehicles to get through intersections faster and more safely.

Stoplights are installed at:

State Road 135 and

  • County Line Road
  • Fry Road
  • Fairview Road
  • Meridian Parke Drive
  • Main Street
  • Menards
  • Smith Valley Road
  • Target
  • Olive Branch Road
  • Demaree Road
  • Stones Crossing Road

State Road 37 and

  • Smith Valley Road
  • Fairview Road
  • County Line Road

Stoplights are planned at:

Smith Valley Road and Peterman Road

Morgantown Road and

  • Stones Crossing Road
  • Olive Branch Road
  • Smith Valley Road

SOURCE: White River Township Fire Department

Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2718.