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New traffic congestion tool used for safety

YOKOHAMA, Japan — New technology from Nissan could help drivers worried about missing a red light or being hit by cars darting out from hidden alleys.

The world’s automakers are all working on automatic braking and other safety measures to reduce accidents. Nissan’s technology is different because it takes advantage of sensors already in place to monitor traffic congestion in Japan.

This island nation, with numerous narrow roads often jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, has infrared sensors hanging from street poles relying information to car navigation equipment so drivers can map out the quickest routes.

The still-experimental vehicle-alert system from Nissan uses the sensors to detect dangers such as unexpected cars zipping out. That information is then beamed into the driver’s vehicle.

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In a recent demonstration, the car’s navigation equipment emitted a beep, then an electronic voice warning, "A car is coming from the left ahead." A picture of a car in an alley also popped up on the navigation monitor.

The alert system also warns about upcoming yellow or red lights if the driver isn’t slowing down. Also in consideration is a system that warns drivers when they enter a school zone.

"Making the driver recognize a situation is an important first step in safety," Nissan General Manager Shunichi Toyomasu said.

But Toyomasu acknowledged that too many warnings can encourage drivers to simply switch the system off. Nissan plans to gather data to see whether the technology would contribute to reducing accidents and change driver behavior. The Tokyo-based automaker said it hopes to offer its vehicle-alert system commercially by 2010.

— Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press

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