Marrying high-tech with road safety has been one of the primary goals of the automotive industry for the past several decades, often with very good results. The latest step forward by BMW promises to take the idea to a new level, using technology to help save fuel too.

Ever been driving home late at night and every traffic light is red? You've probably wondered why the lights aren't a little more adaptable.

The short answer: they're not at all smart, and at least here in the U.S. they're horribly outdated. This ends up in a lot of needless idling and a lack of easy adaptability in most cases to either sudden events like traffic accidents or even daily events like traffic congestion in a certain direction at a particular time.

Developments like start-stop systems, which shut off the engine when sitting still in traffic, along with full hybrid systems that help increase fuel efficiency especially in low-speed stop-and-go traffic, can help, but they're only part of the solution. That's why BMW is pushing for upgraded, smart traffic signals that would have the capability to adapt to traffic congestion, whether it's expected or not.

Simply by changing the timing of traffic lights on a test stretch of roadway in Munich, BMW engineers were able to nearly double the fuel efficiency of a diesel-powered 530d test vehicle--from 22 mpg to 42 mpg. That being an idealized situation, the company expects an overall 10 to 15% decrease in urban fuel consumption due to smart traffic signaling.

BMW has been meeting with U.S. DOT officials on the importance of upgraded traffic signals--hoping for a new focus on improving them--and will share results of their findings with local officials.