Fact Finders: Can emergency crews change traffic lights?

Lights and sirens means safely move over. But it can be extra tricky at an intersection.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 9:11 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - We’ve all been at a traffic light when an emergency vehicle drives up with lights and sirens. After seeing the problems first responders had at traffic lights recently, Dorothy wanted to know, Do emergency crews have the ability to change traffic lights?

Lights and sirens mean you should safely move over and get out of the way. It can be extra tricky at an intersection.

”Drivers that are maybe crossing an intersection that we’re approaching from another direction may not see or hear us until we’re right on top of them,” explained Kyle Gaines of The St. Charles County Ambulance District.

Our St. Louis sister station reported on the Opticom system last May. The system uses infrared (IR) transmitters mounted on emergency vehicles to clear the way. Advocates say it cuts response times. And they say it’s safer for everyone when the light changes for the emergency vehicle.

“So having this visual and having the signal shut down and go red is going to be an important step,” added Gaines.

”We’re going to gain minutes with just some of these intersections,” said Asst. Chief Andy Parrish of the O’Fallon Fire Protection District.

The reported cost in St. Charles County is $800,000 for 351 intersections.

Meanwhile, our Kansas City sister station recently reported that the firefighters union wants the technology at more intersections after a fatal crash. The city has about 100 crossings equipped with the technology. The reported cost to add the system to other intersections is $14,000 per four-way.

The company says Springfield, Nixa, and Ozark do not have the system. But Branson does have an older version of this technology. But Branson is exploring the possibility of upgrades.

Coming back to Dorothy’s question, Do emergency crews have the ability to change traffic lights? It depends on the city. We’re going to slide this to YES. The ability does exist. But keep in mind not every city has the technology. And in the cities with the technology, not every intersection is equipped with it.

If you want us to investigate something, email us at factfinders@ky3.com.

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