MedStar: No Change to Red Lights, Sirens

Ambulance service finds device to change traffic lights doesn't improve response times

By Scott Gordon
|  Friday, Nov 18, 2011  |  Updated 12:08 AM CDT
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Fort Worth's ambulance service MedStar found that a device that remotely turns red lights green did not improve response times.

Scott Gordon, NBC 5 News

Fort Worth's ambulance service MedStar found that a device that remotely turns red lights green did not improve response times.

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After a unique experiment to speed response times and improve safety, Fort Worth's ambulance service has decided to keep using old-fashioned lights and sirens instead of a device that remotely turns red lights green.

For two months, MedStar equipped two ambulances with Opticom and conducted an experiment.

Opticom is a traffic control system that sends a signal from emergency vehicles to turn traffic lights green.

"Lights and sirens are very disruptive to normal traffic flow," said MedStar supervisor Shaun Curtis. "People are more apt to stop at a red light than they would for an ambulance coming through the intersection."

The idea was to still use lights and siren for life-threatening calls such as heart attacks. MedStar conducted the experiment with Opticom on lower-priority calls, such as most traffic accidents.

But after looking at the results, MedStar found Opticom didn't increase response times at all.

The average response time was two-and-a-half minutes per mile with it -- the same as using red lights and sirens.

"I was very surprised by the results," Curtis said. "I really thought that being able to manipulate the lights would significantly improve our response time."

MedStar has decided not to use Opticom and continue using lights and sirens.

"The experiment is over for now," he said.

Curtis speculated that part of the problem is that not all red-light intersections in Fort Worth are equipped with Opticom.

As Fort Worth adds more traffic lights to the system and technology improves, MedStar might try the experiment again in the future, he said.

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