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Transportation Technology

MIT Algorithm Predicts Red Light Runners 348

adeelarshad82 writes "Researchers at MIT have developed an algorithm that determines which drivers will run a red light, within one to two seconds before a potential collision. The research, based on 15,000 cars at a busy intersection, monitored various factors to determine which cars were were likely to run a red light. They found that their predictions were correct about 85 percent of the time, which is about 15-20 percent better than existing traffic prediction algorithms."
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MIT Algorithm Predicts Red Light Runners

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  • by Reverand Dave ( 1959652 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:37PM (#38227972)
    Traffic court division!
  • by 14erCleaner ( 745600 ) <> on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:37PM (#38227974) Homepage Journal
    If the car isn't slowing down, it's more likely to run the light.
  • "For the technology to work, How said vehicles would need to be able to communicate with one another, wirelessly sending and receiving data like the car's speed and position."

    This would require the red light runner to also be transmitting their speed and position.

    • Re:Wirelessly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:45PM (#38228188)

      On the other hand, if everyone is being told to not enter the intersection because someone might run the red light, then you can more safely run red lights.

      That's got to count for something....

      • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @03:21PM (#38229918) Homepage Journal

        Old joke:

        I was recently riding with a friend of mine.

        We were coming to a red light, and he shoots right through it. I ask him, "Why'd you do that?" He tells me this is how his brother drives.

        We come to another red light, and again, he shoots right through it. I ask him, "Why'd you do that?" Again, he tells me this is how his brother drives.

        We come to a green light, and he slams on the brakes. My heart nearly goes into my throat. I shouted at him, "Why do you do that?!"

        He replied, "You never know, my brother could be coming the other way."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:40PM (#38228060)

    I assume it simply selects BMWs?

    • Great comment, did you read the NYTimes article about stereotypes of various car drivers? I think it went something like this:

      BMW - Arrogant, spoiled (this perception went way up after the official's son who killed someone while driving a BMW)
      Mercedes - for older people
      Audi - powerful (don't mess with the driver. This is because many officials drive this)

      American cars I seem to remember have a pretty good reputation. Who knew? ;). But I guess they've been getting better.

  • by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:42PM (#38228098) Homepage

    I usually look when the light turns green to make sure no one is about to run it. I have a similar accuracy in determining when I shouldn't cross because someone is going a little too fast. I don't think it's the speed, because some people like locking up their brakes at the last second. I think even those people have their foot on the break and are ready to stop. Whereas runners won't be decelerating much or if at all, and may not even be looking at the red light. Just imagine you're driving on a straight flat piece of land through a green light. That's what those drivers will do. That kind of behavior. Only the light is red. If you watch for it, you'll see it every time.

    My issue with this technology is that the dumber types will pick it up and think that the same idea can also be used to catch speeders, drunk drivers, etc, etc. So they'll demand those systems be built and offer stupid amounts of money for it to happen. When it does happen, and it just might, the accuracy will be low, but you'll still have to go to court to fight your way out of a DUI because the computer said you swerved more than a few inches once. They already managed to get the field sobriety test approved, which most people fail SOBER, especially beside a busy interstate in the cold at night with all those bright lights buzzing past at 70mph. You fail a field sobriety test, you're drunk. Period.

    • Most, if not all, places give you the right to refuse the field test in favor of a blood test.

      More inconvenient, yes... but I think I like the accuracy of the blood test far more than that of the aforementioned "sobriety" test.

  • I bet a human has even better accuracy at forecasting this. I don't think anyone needs an assistance from a computer to tell them what they are already seeing.

    • Well if a computer can predict this it could I don't know hold the yellow longer so they do not run a red light and potentially cause an accident. Fining people has little to no value it's using a stick to try and illicit better behavior. The point is to reduce accidents not make money for the government.

      • I say take that a step further. If the light communicates with a vehicle that it thinks is going to run the light, don't increase the yellow time since that could encourage additional cars to enter the intersection; instead increase the pause between the light turning red in the current direction and the light turning green on the opposite approach.

      • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

        While it's impossible to run a red light when both lights are green/yellow, it won't reduce the number of accidents.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:45PM (#38228172) Homepage Journal

    Is driver on mobile phone? Add 1

    Is driver drinking coffee? Add 1

    Is driver putting on makeup/shaving/combing hair? Add 1

    Is driver having animated (you can see heads turning and arms waving about) discussion with passenger/children? Add 1

    Is driver speeding? Add 1

    If your score is 3 or higher then expect them to run the light, hope you are not in a crossing lane.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:45PM (#38228178)

    Predict that every car will not run the light. My prediction is correct much more than 85% of the time. Why aren't I in the news?

  • Hope the folks at Google adapt this to their self-driving car. Seems like a no-brainer.
    Come to think of it, the whole interaction would be a no-brainer. Car detects red-light runner, car avoids red-light runner.
    • No, no, you've got it all wrong! It's a driverless car! It should pull out IN FRONT OF the red-light runner! Then it would remove the jerk from the driver pool without injuring any innocents! It's perfect!

  • Now what ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:48PM (#38228240)

    Does the red get held on the cross street longer ?

    That just makes the red-runners life a lot more safer and encourages the behavior.

    Does it trigger the 5ton metal barrier at the stop line ?

    That make sit safer for the cross street and discourages the behavior. But we don't have the 5ton barriers.

    • Hehe, oh [] yes [] we [] do []...

      Though, they do take too long to actually deploy. Work on that... and I think we have an answer...

    • by jo_ham ( 604554 )

      Off the top of my head, assuming the junction is being monitored then the person running the light is going to get a ticket anyway (if they run the light after the computer has predicted so).

      The side benefit of the prediction is that the system might hold the other light longer to prevent injuries to those people actually following the law. That the lawbreaker is also safer is just a side effect - they still get a ticket, but maybe they don't take out a minivan full of old people while doing it.

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:50PM (#38228308)
    MIT? The M in that TLA stands for Massachusetts. I've visited the state and seen the drivers, and I'm pretty sure that red light running there is mandatory. As near as I could figure, the law there is if you ever see the green or yellow as you approach the intersection, then the light is still considered green for you. I'll wait for research from somewhere else.
    • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      Actually.... a FOAF got a job as a cop here (yes Boston area). On her first day out driving she was approaching a light behind another car. It turned yellow and she stepped on the gas... completely forgetting that she was in a police cruiser, a fact which was apparently not missed by the person in front of her who dutifully stepped on his breaks and came to a stop at the light..... whoops.

  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @01:54PM (#38228376) Journal

    Using this technique plus normal(?) traffic cameras, police could pretty quickly build up a list of habitual red light runners. (Even if they didnt actually "run" the light, they would be put under suspicion). They could be put on a list for "random" pull overs. (This presumes that video cameras with auto license plate reading are present and functioning on police car dashboards. I'm not sure this is the case nationally, but when I was in Denver recently a police car pulled over my friend because the computer had her license plate on a list. Call it the "Do Not Drive List").

    This is nothing compared to when face recognition systems become widely prevalent. That'll blow away the "big-brother" predictions made by science fiction films like minority report (which used retina scans). Of course, WE'VE been supplying the government with tons and tons of this pre-edited, organized data tagged data. Thanks Facebook! (which is another reason why I don't use it). Call it the "Do Not Walk List".

    That coupled with national biometrics programs (India, Afghanistan) and GPS tracking in every smartphone (Carrier IQ) and warrantless tapping/tracking of American citizens (war on terror) means we are rapidly heading towards a world where your government CAN know where you are at every moment. Whether or not they WILL know where you are is up to the battles over privacy information.

  • I RTFA, and no algorithm was shown. As for the 15% error, did anyone consider cargo? Without seeing the math, how are we compelled to even consider that this was nothing more than a SWAG(scientific wild @$$ guess). Me thinks this is nothing more than a variation of a Markov Chain. [] This would make a good lab project for a second year student on the west coast.

    (snap m.i.t.)
    • by Entrope ( 68843 )

      Even more than that, what the heck does the "85 percent" rate mean? I would think that MIT's press release could at least bother to indicate sensitivity and specificity as separate numbers. If they falsely predict that 15% of people (one out of roughly six) who stop are about to run the light, that poses major problems for any field use of the system.

    • Re:Where's the Work? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tech10171968 ( 955149 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @02:32PM (#38229158)

      ...As for the 15% error, did anyone consider cargo?...

      THANK YOU!!! As an economic refugee of the "Great Recession", I ended up driving a tractor-trailer for a living - and wound up learning a few things along the way. One interesting fact I've learned is that a fully loaded (80,000 lbs) semi moving at 55 mph can take up to 300 ft to come to a complete stop (think about that next time you want to "brake-check" a truck...). I have, unfortunately, run across traffic lights in which the yellow phase was, for some strange reason, really short- even if the the semi is traveling the legal speed limit. This is not a situation you want to be in: your choices often boil down to:

      (1) Stand on the brake in order to not run the impending red light (remember that 300-foot stopping distance? By the time you get stopped, your trailer in squarely in the middle of the intersection. And that's if you don't jackknife and end up wiping out 5 or 6 cars along the way).

      (2) Run the light (Yes, it's going to be red by the time you hit it, meaning you will almost certainly incur the wrath of any red-light camera or nearby cop - but see option 1 for the alternative scenario)

      This is probably the number two reason I try to avoid surface streets when possible (reason number one being the preponderance of infrastructure not exactly designed with a 75-ft long, nearly 14-ft high vehicle in mind). I figure any traffic engineer worth his salt is going to take these factors into consideration; a failure to do so is going to inevitably invite the occurance of an 18-wheeled clusterfuck and all that comes with it (major property damage, potential loss of life, etc).

      • Cities that implement red-light cameras think it's cute to actually REDUCE THE LENGTH OF THE YELLOW to increase revenue. This is often illegal, because most places have a legal minimum yellow time of 3-4 seconds.
    • Re:Where's the Work? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Ambitwistor ( 1041236 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @04:38PM (#38230998)

      The paper is here [], and it gives ROC curves. They used two approaches, a hidden Markov model and a support vector machine Bayesian filter.

  • Red light delay. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @02:19PM (#38228884)

    Years ago I was sitting at light. The light turns green and the driver in front of me starts going oblivious to the car that's sailing down the road and clearly not intending on stopping for the red. So this guy slams right into the guy in front of me.

    This was back when a light would turn green almost immediately after the intersecting street's light would go red. Drivers in my city are notorious for flaunting the rules and generally driving like jerks, but it was rare to have someone go through a red because people were aware of the risk involved.

    Then at some point in the past 10-15 years traffic engineers got the idea to delay the interval between one light turning red and the next going green. So now there's a good 2+ second delay where all lights are red.

    What has been the side-effect of this change? Now people brazenly blow through red lights. And the thing is that I've seen it happen everywhere, upscale and low-income areas alike. I've seen lines of 3-5 cars keep on going through when the light had clearly gone red. It's so bad sometimes that there are still cars in the intersection after the other light has already turned green, and this is with the aforementioned delay.

    But yeah, it's pretty easy to spot the ones who aren't going to stop. They're the ones still moving at a good clip and making no attempt to slow down and stop.

    This is why I'm somewhat supportive of stop light cameras. It's not like speed cameras which don't really target the real problem, aggressive or careless driving. Going through a red light poses real danger and is a clear example of reckless driving. Of course, I realize that stop light cameras are abused as well; one popular tactic being to shorten the yellow in order to boost the number of offenders. Otherwise running red lights is a persistent problem I don't really see anyone addressing. Probably because it involves more effort and brings in less revenue than going after speeders.

  • This seems like a half baked solution to one aspect of a bad idea. At least it's not as bad a "solution" as installing red light enforcement cameras everywhere. Intersections are just plain bad. Yellows are often too short for a variety of reasons, and that is the number one cause of red light running. After improving the signal timing, which shouldn't be hard, roundabouts may be the most practical alternative.

    Then there's the interchange, which is unfortunately very expensive. Yet it's crazy the way

  • to filter out the bad drivers before they go for their test. Have a stop light before the door and see who runs the yellow light.

  • I'm wondering what an MIT team was doing studying traffic at the home of Virginia Tech? Were the two cooperating, or was there some sort of one-ups-man-ship going on?

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @02:37PM (#38229228) Homepage Journal
    I don't see too many people pushing the yellows here. People rolling into right turns without stopping and looking are much more of a problem. Cops and stop light cameras are much less prone to ticket that one, though it's a free "Failing to yield the right of way" for the ticket quota.

    I assume their plan is that 2 seconds is plenty of time to avert an accident by hitting the guy who was going to run the red light with some sort of rocket? This is MIT we're talking about, so I'm going to assume some sort of rocket is involved somehow.

  • by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @07:55PM (#38232920) Homepage
    Not really linked to the story, but it gives me a chance to relate this tale of idiocy.

    A friend was pulled over by police for running through an intersection just as it turned from amber to red instead of stopping. She said that because the car behind was tailgating (business as usual), to have stopped would have caused an accident, so in her judgement it was safer to continue. That cut no ice and she was booked. Eventually they let her go and then pulled out behind her and followed. At the next intersection, the lights were on amber so this time she stopped. The police patrol car ploughed straight into her rear. They booked her again (she was naturally livid) but elected to take the matter to court. She was cleared of all charges including the original offence and the police had to pay all costs. Justice.

    Sometimes the right thing to do is to press on on amber - I usually stop but only if there's time to do it without the half-asleep moron behind rearranging the back of your car.

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