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These ambulances can alert drivers of their approach by interrupting loud music

If, like many drivers, you like to have tunes pumping out of your music system to a level that causes your hair to vibrate, then there may be occasions when you’re not fully aware that an ambulance is coming up the rear, or perhaps approaching from another street.

Of course, this increases the chance of you hindering the progress of the emergency vehicle as it tries to reach some poor fella suffering a cardiac arrest or some other life-threatening condition. At worst, it may mean you don’t notice the ambulance passing through a stop sign, putting it on a collision course with your motor as you enjoy a couple of tracks from one of your lovingly curated playlists.

The issue has come to the attention of students in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, prompting them to develop a system that interrupts a car’s music player to alert a driver of an approaching emergency vehicle.

Trials for the system, called EVAM, start soon and if successful the team hope to commercialize it.

Working at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, the student’s system involves a radio transmission from the ambulance to nearby FM tuners equipped with Radio Data System (RDS).

The signal is sent over the FM band along with the transmission of a text message that appears in the tuner display. It can also lower the music’s volume and put out an audible voice message via the speakers, warning the driver to take extra care.

“Often drivers have only a few seconds to react and give way to emergency vehicles,” says industrial engineering student Mikael Erneberg, one of EVAM’s designers. “The optimal warning time is at least 10 to 15 seconds.”

Erneberg adds: “We want to catch motorists’ attention at an early stage, and mitigate stress that impairs road safety.”

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The warning system also takes into account the speed of traffic in the vicinity, so on a highway, for example, the alert will broadcast earlier than in slower city traffic.

As for downsides, not all cars are equipped with RDS – the team estimates EVAM will work with two-thirds of all vehicles on Swedish roads – and some drivers don’t have their music systems on the whole time while they’re driving. With cars getting smarter all the time, an alternative solution would be to fit external audio sensors, which, when the siren of an emergency vehicle is detected nearby, can automatically activate the music system to alert the driver. Though of course, once vehicles become truly autonomous, such issues should be a thing of the past.