Drivers still confused by Opticom system

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The new technology changes traffic lights to let emergency vehicles through, but it's harder to change drivers' habits.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter


While the Opticom devices clear the intersections for emergency vehicles, many drivers still seems confused about what to do next.
Opticom hooks up to traffic lights and tells them to change when an ambulance, police car or fire engine approaches, so they can get to their emergency in a timely way, said Larry Diamond, Galax’s assistant fire chief. All lanes, including the left turn lane, will get a green light to allow any traffic stopped in those lanes of travel through to clear the intersections for the emergency vehicles.
It works by a signal emitter attached to the emergency vehicles, picked up by a receiver on the stop light going off, he explained.
When the signal is received, a white light on the device will flash for the opposing directions of travel — that means an emergency vehicle is approaching.
It only takes seconds for the stoplight to cycle when the Opticom receives the signal and opposing traffic will have to come to a stop quickly.
“It’ll only take a few seconds, so don’t try to beat the light change,” Diamond said.
That includes motorists who want to turn right on red.
Drivers who see a white light that’s constantly on should know the emergency vehicle is going the same direction as they are.
Traffic going the same direction as the emergency vehicles are supposed to clear the intersection and then pull over to the right edge of the road as soon as its safe.
Traffic is supposed to remain stopped until all emergency vehicles go by. Diamond noted that’s important because the emergency vehicles, especially fire trucks, may need to make a right turn and they need time, space and a clear lane to do that.
Vehicle traffic is supposed to stay back 500 feet from emergency vehicles. Diamond said it’s a reckless driving offense to pass an emergency vehicle.
Galax now has Opticom on lights on Main Street and U.S. 58 to aid in emergency response times, Diamond said. Opticom in Hillsville works the same way.
Opticom is a tool that emergency services use, but the emergency officials and the public have to be on the same page about it.

Here's a helpful link explaining how Opticom works.