Many drivers approaching a school zone will either slow down slightly or maintain their current speed. Whether distracted, in a hurry or thinking they still have plenty of time to stop, they see the reduced speed limit as a suggestion, not a mandate. However, the Canadian city of Brossard, located outside Montréal, has devised a way to encourage drivers to reduce their speed using a new traffic light. 

Known as FRED for “feu de ralentissement éducatif” which translates as "educational traffic-calming light," the light stays red but turns green when it determines an approaching vehicle's speed is below the limit. If a vehicle approaches above the speed limit, it will stay red, forcing the driver to slow down and even stop. 

This type of traffic light is widely used in Europe but is one of the first in North America. Brossard is testing FRED with a 90-day trial period on a two-lane street in a suburban residential area. Before installing the light, the street had an average vehicle speed of 25 mph, but since the trial started, speeds have dropped to 18 mph.  

“Across Canada, near school zones, people are asking for concrete measures to control speeding. This (technology) has not been accepted yet by the government, and we’re going to do it as a test,” said Brossard’s mayor, Doreen Assaad, in an interview with StreetsblogMass, an online site for environmental and transportation advocacy. 

Quebec also has automated enforcement cameras that will issue fines when they detect drivers who exceed speed limits or ignore red lights. “Fines might be effective, but it’s effective after the fact,” said Assaad. “The beauty of FRED is we reward good behaviour, and it’s immediate. It doesn’t record any private information; it just detects that the vehicle is coming and measures its speed. So it’s a carrot instead of a stick.”

The current FRED light only works on smaller two-lane streets and cannot control traffic at intersections. However, it opens the door for more creative solutions to reduce excessive speeding and reckless driving. Since many traffic lights are already equipped with sensors and wireless connections, imagining a network developed to reduce dangerous behaviour is not a stretch. Lights at many existing intersections could be reprogrammed to reward good driving and penalise bad driving habits with longer red lights.  

It may seem obvious, but lower speed limits contribute to safer roads. Used in conjunction with new driver safety systems to minimise distractions and improve attention could lead to a continued reduction in driver fatalities