Dubai’s Traffic Signal System: How It Works

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As Dubai continues to expand into a mega city, the traffic system is also becoming increasingly complex and advanced. Like most of the world’s biggest cities, Dubai suffers from traffic congestion and despite government’s measures the problem continues to exacerbate.

According to 2013 figures, Dubai’s economy suffered setbacks worth Dh2.9 billion in terms of loss in working hours, time and fuel.


Authorities are still busy investing in a wide variety of flyovers and bridges in a bid to replace the junctions and roundabouts managed by traffic lights. For some, these traffic lights are confusing and significantly aggravate the deadly traffic jams. Despite all these measures, it is impractical to believe that signals can be avoided all together in a city as large as Dubai.
According to Roads and Transport authority (RTA), there are three different signaling systems in Dubai:

  • Fixed time light change system that is used at a very few places
  • Vehicle-actuated system that is dependent on sensors
  • SCOOT – It covers most of Dubai’s traffic junctions

According to current figures, Dubai encompasses around 1.5 million vehicles and an extensive road network that covers some 3,760 kilometres. There are also more than 800 signalised traffic junctions that are controlled by the Dubai central traffic command. The automatic advanced signaling system that controls most these traffic lights is known as SCOOT, short for Split Cycle Offset Optimization Technique.

SCOOT is highly adaptive and very responsive to traffic fluctuations and situations as and when they occur. It works effectively by calculating the time of each cycle based on the number of vehicles passed, as determined by the sensors. It is programmed with minimum and maximum timings for the signals and it adjusts traffic flows accordingly, making the movement of traffic smoother and more reliable.

Last year, SCOOT was a part of Dubai Government’s initiative to make Dubai a smart city. Its implementation involved replacing the cables used in linking light signals with a wireless network. The farfetched areas of the city presented a big challenge of linking isolated signals with the centre. This was solved using 3G technology.

According to Maitha Bin Udai, CEO of RTA’s Traffic and Roads Agency, SCOOT gets the relevant information via a series of detectors hidden in the road surface. These work to calculate the traffic flow. Subsequently, a central computer uses this data to calculate the right signal timings in the real time to improve the succession of traffic through the system and lessen traffic blockage. Of course, the priority at the signals is given to the main roads and the most congested routes. The SCOOT system aids the smooth traffic on these routes, while also trying to create a steady flow of traffic on minor roads.

One of the biggest debatable issues about Dubai’s traffic is the duration of green and red lights on traffic signals. There are numerous opinions and not everyone agrees on what basis the duration is decided. Motorists don’t like lengthy stays at traffic junctions and that’s why they have a hard time accepting the green or red time they get, no matter where they are.

With SCOOT the duration of a signal generally depends on the volume of traffic at a particular junction. Simply put, the period of a red light depends on the type of operations in effect at the time. During normal operational circumstances, it will be less than 255 seconds. The minimum time of approach is seven seconds. The normal U-turns and pedestrian phase signals are the shortest red lights. SCOOT has the ability to make choices according to traffic volume on every approach at the intersection.

Suhail is a journalist who loves everything about technology driven cars. He keeps a keen eye on the latest developments in automotive industry and shares the news as it breaks.

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