New app alerts Walnut Creek drivers to traffic light changes

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KTVU) - We've all experienced it - sitting behind someone at a stoplight who doesn't see it turn green - and continues to sit there.

In Walnut Creek, city leaders are touting a possible high tech solution, one that they say has a tremendous potential upside down the road.

At stoplights, drivers occupy themselves with conversation, the radio, and yes, illegally, with smartphones. "Come on this is Walnut Creek. That never happens, right? No one's ever sitting there texting at a stop light," laughs Walnut Creek resident Chris Luna.

Oftentimes, those distractions keep drivers from proceeding when the light turns green. "While all the cars are heading off and you get this loud honk behind you." says Bob Simmons, Walnut Creek Mayor.

But the app called EnLighten, just unveiled in Walnut Creek, tells drivers when the light is about to change. "Wow, that's pretty cool," exclaimed Luna.

It also gives a countdown to the light change, and it will even tell you if you'll make the next light. "If you're approaching a light with a left turn that is separate from the through, it gives you a time for each one," said the city's Traffic Engineer, Rafat Raie.

He adds if enough people use EnLighten, traffic will flow more smoothly. "We are always anticipate the delay time. The distracted driver. And you know how it is from your driving, through your own driving experience, if there is one driver who is distracted, it delays all the drivers who are behind him."

The app is not much to look at, so unless you're going to sit there and stare at a countdown on your phone, you're probably going to be safe using it, especially because it will tell you, without looking at it, when the light's going to turn green.

"This is part of the technology that we are going to see coming forward, that will actually make cars a lot safer," said Mayor Bob Simmons.

But not all drivers are convinced. "I don't think I would use it actually... because I would find it distracting to be on my phone," said Meghan Diehl of Oakley.

KTVU talked with a CHP officer who was unaware of the EnLighten app. He said that anything in a car other than driving is a distraction. But he added that the auditory cue sounds like it could be useful and not a distraction.

The installation of EnLighten was paid for with a $22,500 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.