[THE KOREA TIMES_최선민 변호사] The future of amber in traffic lights

A traffic light in front of the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva. Reuters

.jpgBy Choi Sun-min

I like the color amber. It is the color of my firm’s logo, so I can see it on the wall every morning when I arrive at work. It is my favorite baseball team’s color as well. I like it more at night because it makes me feel warm, but I prefer not to see it on my way to work.

When I drive I always pray that the light will not change from green to red. However, my car always ends up stopping in front of a crosswalk in heavy traffic. At that time, amber seems almost like a meaningless color that forces me to stop.

The amber traffic light is called differently according to the country it is in. It is called “yellow” in the U.S., “amber” in the U.K. and we called it “orange” in Korea.

No matter what it is called, this color represents the assurance of safety. It notifies drivers that the traffic light will change soon, so drivers can decide whether to stop or go, and lets pedestrians know they will soon be able to cross the road safely, once the cars have stopped.

As the traffic lights are importantly related to citizens’ life and safety, the Korean legal system strictly regulates them. Under Article 4 of the Road Traffic Act, the kinds of traffic lights, their methods of manufacture, places where they are to be installed, and other necessary matters are determined by ordinances issued by the Ministry of the Interior.

When you read the regulations and attached tables, you can get an idea of how detailed the traffic lights prescriptions are, and how important these lights are for your safety. In the regulations, you can also see how you are supposed to act when the amber light is on.

However, this color responsible for our safety might possibly disappear. Rather than simply recognizing the color of a traffic light, an autonomous vehicle can receive data from transport management authorities directly, and this data can cause cars to decide whether to keep driving or to stop, without any need for an amber light. Driverless cars can predict signal changes, so they can easily moderate speed for optimum safety.

To prepare for this future, collaboration is necessary among the government, companies that make autonomous vehicles, and drivers. Surprisingly, the Korean government is trying to prepare this change ahead.

Under the National Transport System Efficiency Act, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport shall formulate a master plan for intelligent transport systems (ITS) on a national scale, and heads of local government may then formulate basic plans for ITS putting flesh on the bones of the master plan for a specific area.

The National Transport Information Center authorized by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport provides the data and information regarding roads and traffic to private sector organizations. As of now, data about traffic light changes is not yet provided, and autonomous vehicles have a long way to go, but changes can come more suddenly or sooner than expected.

We may be at an amber light right now. As I said, my favorite color is amber, but I hope to see it only in my company’s logo, not on the way to work.

Choi Sun-min is a junior associate at HMP Law and a member of the Tech & Comms team.

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