Someone Invent This: In-Car Emergency Services Warning System

I’ve gotten lazy about sharing ideas for inventions that pop into my head, so here’s another entry in the Someone Invent This category. I think someone should invent an in-car emergency services warning system. Here’s why…

I was in the car with Ashley this past weekend, and we were driving along a road doing 80 km/hr. Ashley was driving, and like any good driver, she was routinely checking her rear view mirror, so she saw the ambulance rushing up behind us and moved over to the right long before it reached us. The guy in the left lane, the lane the ambulance was in, didn’t see it or hear it until it was right up on his bumper – the ambulance had to slow down and wait for this driver to realize they were behind him and move over. This cost the ambulance tens of seconds of momentum, and when you’re talking about emergencies, seconds add up to minutes, and every minute of the Golden Hour counts. Drivers not paying attention to emergency vehicles costs lives, and I think there’s a technological solution to the problem.

Here’s the concept: via a wireless signal, emergency vehicles – ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, etc. – would be able to broadcast their presence to vehicles within a radius of “x” feet. This signal would do a couple of things; mute/pause music/radio playback and audibly broadcast an alert to the driver (“EMERGENCY VEHICLE APPROACHING: PLEASE SAFELY MOVE TO THE RIGHT”). By having a few seconds of warning, drivers, even the most irresponsible ones, would be given an alert they’d likely heed. Sure, human nature being what it is, it might not be the perfect solution – but the vast majority of people would respond to the warning.

Technological implementation? Bluetooth is likely the best bet – there are a lot of cars out there with Bluetooth implemented. I’m not sure if, from a security standpoint, Bluetooth has the sort of “override” needed for this to work. A class 1 Bluetooth device can broadcast 100 metres (328 feet), which seems about right in terms of distance. Cars that have a GPS could implement an advanced version of this, providing Z-axis data…meaning if you’re on an overpass, and an ambulance is driving under you, there would be no warning. There are some interesting mesh network technologies that can be implemented here as well to round out the solution…

Anything involving vehicles takes a lot of effort and coordination, so the inclusion of this wireless system would have to be government mandated and rolled out into vehicles over the course of many years. Retro-fitting older vehicles with the required technology would be difficult – heck, we can’t even get old oil-burning junkers off the road where I live – but over time, you’d reach a critical mass big enough to make this work.

OK, somebody go invent this please. 🙂

  • janakj

    Nifty idea, but I don't think it's that simple.

    1. What prevents people from hacking this and taking advantage of it?
    2. Why wasn't the ambulance already wailing at top volume? If they are, it's really hard not to hear it at a distance. I'm trying to see how much of an advantage this will provide over existing solutions.
    3. Why “RIGHT”? What if the accident is in the left lane and the ambulance needs everyone to move to the “LEFT”? If implemented as such, one actually has to read the sign, which is distracting, which leads to:
    4. With tons of people slowing down and moving, I would not be surprised if this may increase accidents. Especially if I have to read the direction I have to turn.

    That's just to start. I think one needs to bake this a lot more before it is practical.

  • 1) What prevents anyone from doing anything? Security. You'd need some sort of master/slave relationship to be a part of this, so only emergency vehicles would be able to broadcast the signal, not the cars themselves.

    2) I'm not sure – I don't think so, because we weren't listening to music in the car and I didn't hear it. It's a valid question how much of an improvement this would be – I guess my point of view is that this is a problem I see over and over again, so if there's a way to improve things, it's worth at least testing out.

    3) In Canada, you're supposed to move to the right:… – and there's no sign reading, it would be an audible alert (I've just updated my post since that obviously wasn't clear enough). Maybe it could be a more generic “move out of the way” type message.

    4) No reading involved – reading would be a very bad way to implement this. 🙂

    As for “baking” before it becomes “practical” it's just an idea Janak, not a proposal for a new Internet protocol. 😉