Plan to turn traffic lights green for ambulances

A system that turns traffic lights in favour of ambulances is being considered, in an apparent response to a rise in emergency cases here.  -- ST FILE PHOTO:  DESMOND LIM
A system that turns traffic lights in favour of ambulances is being considered, in an apparent response to a rise in emergency cases here.  -- ST FILE PHOTO:  DESMOND LIM

A system that turns traffic lights in favour of ambulances is being considered, in an apparent response to a rise in emergency cases here.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) are looking to develop a "traffic priority system" through a continuous "green wave" signal that will allow emergency ambulances to shorten their response time.

Both parties want to start on a trial involving five traffic junctions over a period of six months, according to tender documents obtained by The Straits Times.

They are looking for a consultant to help them collect data in the trial. The data will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the system, and its impact on overall traffic conditions. The consultant will also be asked to make recommendations for an islandwide implementation of such a system.

Traffic priority systems for emergency vehicles have been used in other countries - notably the United States - since the late 1990s.

They work in various ways, including using electronic transponders on emergency vehicles to trigger a green light or prolong it. Newer versions use global positioning systems to ensure traffic lights along the route of an emergency vehicle are in its favour.

Retired traffic engineer Joseph Yee, 68, said that although the technology has been available for a while, Singapore has not adopted it because of the potential impact on overall traffic efficiency.

But this may change as the number of emergencies rises.

Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament on Monday that the SCDF's emergency ambulance service responded to 76,024 calls in the first six months of the year - an increase of 8.4 per cent from the same period last year. "If this continues for the rest of the year, it would be the highest annual rate of increase in five years," he said.

"The purpose of the emergency ambulance services is to deal with life-threatening situations," he added. "In an emergency, every second counts."

Singapore Road Safety Council vice-chairman and retired traffic planner Menon Gopinath, 69, said a traffic priority system for emergency vehicles should ideally be linked to the LTA's traffic control centre. He said this will minimise disruption to signal timings at other junctions or even the entire road network.

christan@sph.com.sg