police car in the city (Tiko Aramyan/Shutterstock.com)

Philadelphia bringing signal pre-emption tech to first responders

This May, two Philadelphia police officers responding to a report of shots fired became the ones in need of assistance.

The police SUV was crossing an intersection when it was hit by a car headed down the perpendicular street, according to NBC10.

A similar accident occurred later in the summer when a patrol car hit another vehicle as it crossed an intersection, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Capt. Sekou Kinebrew with the Philadelphia Police Department told GCN that drivers sometimes don’t see the flashing lights or hear the siren of a police car traveling at high speeds through an intersection.

“Once accident is too many,” Kinebrew said. “A 2,000- or 4,000-pound instrument moving at highway speeds, the possibility or propensity for danger is just so great we want to be proactive with it.”

To make accidents like these less likely, the city is upgrading its traffic signals and first responder vehicles with traffic signal pre-emption technology. Vehicles equipped with an optical signal emitter send a secure signal to the intersection traffic light, which verifies the transmission and changes the traffic signal so emergency vehicles get a green light. For police, the device will automatically be activated when the cruiser's lights are turned on -- drivers won’t have to activate it.

The devices are already used in police departments in surrounding townships and for almost a decade by the city’s buses, according to Richard Montanez, the deputy streets commissioner for transportation. In that time officials noticed some improvements, but not to the level they’d like, so they’re currently look at more ways to improve efficiency.

The technology will be included in 150 2018 Ford Interceptors that the force has added to its fleet. Traffic signals throughout the city are being equipped with receiving capabilities as they  are updated on their regular schedule.

A Federal Highway Administration report on this technology from more than a decade ago concluded that communities use these systems experience a “significant benefit” and not much downside.

"We’re not only deploying it in the police vehicles but also the fire vehicles and ambulances,” Montanez said. “All we’re trying to do is get our first responders to the scene as quickly as possible."

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at mleonard@gcn.com or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.


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