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St. Louis-area police test app alert for when emergency vehicles are nearby

police car lights
Jason Rojas
St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson county departments are testing the alert app.

Three St. Louis-area police departments are taking part in a test for a cellphone app alerting drivers when an emergency vehicle is nearby.

Police in St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties held a demonstration on Tuesday in O’Fallon for the MakeWay app. When installed on a phone, it provides a notification for drivers that an emergency vehicle is nearby.

“The intended purpose is to improve road awareness and reaction time for motorists that are sharing the roadways during emergency conditions, whether it be our police, fire, EMS, or whether it be [Department of Transportation personnel] coming into a work zone, roadside assistance, pothole repair,” said Mike Walsh, founder and partner of MakeWay Safety Technologies.

The police agencies equipped five cars with the MakeWay technology that becomes active when a car’s siren and lights go on. Barry Bayles of the St. Charles County Police Department said the departments are testing the technology through the summer.

“Obviously, we're pleased to be part of the testing phase,” Bayles said. “So we kind of get an early look at it and get an idea of how it could help and benefit the community.”

While Bayles said it will ultimately be up to drivers to pull over or stop when a vehicle is nearby, he said the app could make people more aware — especially if they don’t know where a police car is when a siren is going off.

“Anything that helps increase the alertness of drivers is going to be a benefit,” Bayles said.

Walsh said his niece, Jessica Walsh, was broadsided by a car while working at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. That forced her to be on disability for several months.

In addition to helping save people involved in emergency services jobs from harm, Walsh added it could also prevent departments from having to pay a lot of money to fix vehicles that are damaged in accidents.

“So this has lifesaving opportunities as intended, but it's also about asset preservation,” Walsh said. “These pieces of equipment are very expensive, especially fire and ambulance. All of our communities are on relatively tight and narrow budgets.”

The testing is expected to continue through the summer, with a broader rollout expected next year. There is no cost for the agencies to test out MakeWay.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.