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Researchers suggest that self-driving cars could result in a new white traffic signal, or even no signals at all.

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The future of traffic laws may be changing with the rise of self-driving cars, researchers predict. A possible addition to the traditional red, yellow, and green traffic signals is a white light that would indicate autonomous vehicles are in control of the intersection. Alternatively, red and green flashing lights could eliminate the need for a fourth signal altogether. Transitioning to these new signals would likely occur once about half of all vehicles on the road are self-driving, according to experts like Henry Liu from the University of Michigan.

As artificial intelligence (AI) technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the implementation of new traffic signals could be a reality sooner rather than later. Research conducted by the University of Michigan, supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, is already underway to test real-time traffic light changes using data from self-driving cars. The goal is to improve traffic flow without the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades in cities like the Detroit suburb of Birmingham.

While traditional traffic lights have remained relatively unchanged since their inception in the early 20th century, the emergence of self-driving technology has the potential to revolutionize how intersections are managed. Companies like Tesla, Mercedes, GM, Ford, and Waymo are at the forefront of developing autonomous vehicles that could reshape transportation as we know it. However, it is essential for policymakers and infrastructure owners to carefully consider the implications of transitioning to AI-driven traffic solutions to ensure safety and efficiency on the roads.

With more than half of traffic lights across the country currently operating on fixed timers that do not adapt to changing traffic patterns, the need for smarter and more adaptive signals is becoming increasingly apparent. The pilot program in Birmingham, Michigan, aims to demonstrate that data from self-driving cars can be leveraged to improve traffic management without major infrastructure investments. These innovative approaches could lead to a future where traffic lights are more responsive and adaptable to varying traffic conditions.

Despite the potential benefits of incorporating AI technology into traffic management systems, there are concerns about premature investments in AV-specific infrastructure that may not be necessary. Waymo, a leading autonomous rideshare service, acknowledges the importance of creative solutions to facilitate the safe deployment of self-driving cars but emphasizes the need for caution in implementing new signals prematurely. Cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Austin, and San Francisco are already operating autonomous vehicles without a fourth traffic light, illustrating that a balance between innovation and practicality is crucial in the evolution of transportation infrastructure.

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