Lexington County is investing in technology to help emergency vehicles move through traffic more quickly and more safely.
The county and Lexington Medical Center are working together to fund companion “smart light” control systems. The collaborative project will equip ambulances and other emergency vehicles with devices that tell traffic lights the vehicle is coming through. The special technology installed on traffic lights then uses cameras, traffic data and control devices to turn lights green and keep traffic moving for emergency responders.
Efforts will be concentrated on a particularly congested part of the county — the stretch of U.S. 378 between Lott Court in the town of Lexington and Hummingbird Drive in West Columbia.
Without the new devices, emergency responders have had to rely on trusting other drivers to move out of the way. That’s not a fail-proof strategy, said David Kerr, the county’s public safety director.
“You’re dependent 100 percent on your vehicle lights and your vehicle sirens to clear the intersection,” he said.
Oftentimes, if traffic is at a standstill or stopped at a red light, emergency vehicles will need to drive in the opposite lane, Kerr said, which is dangerous. So while the technology will get responders to the callers more quickly, that is not the number one goal, he said.
“It’s safety, safety, safety, for us and all of our citizens ... if we have a unit involved in a traffic accident, it stops us from being able to provide service for a citizen who called us. This will have a huge impact,” Kerr said.
The county plans for 16 of its 28 ambulances, and some fire trucks, to be equipped with traffic signal emitters by next year, according to a news release. After that, county officials will budget for four vehicles to be equipped per year, Kerr said. Lexington Medical Center pledged $2 million to improve intersections along the U.S. 378 corridor with the smart systems.