SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) –  San Jose is set to roll out new software that allows emergency vehicles to change red traffic lights to green, after struggling for years with slow emergency response times.

The new system is smart enough to know where the fire engines are going, and automatically clears a path of green lights all along the way.

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“What we’re seeing is the parting of the seas,” Deputy Fire Chief Michael Patterson told KPIX 5.

“Rather than come to a dead stop at a red light and then waiting for traffic to clear or for that signal to change, the signals would change in our favor and if nothing else at least keep all the traffic flowing,” Patterson explained.

The technology would also allow cars stopped at a red light to get a green light in order to get out of the way.

San Jose’s target is to respond to emergencies at least 90 percent of the time within 8 minutes.

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The city’s first responders are just now breaking 90 percent, after years of response times in the high 80 percent. Other cities are often in the mid to high 90’s.

Fire department layoffs, the closure of firehouses, plus increased population and traffic all added up to slower response times.

“We think this is going to be a significant boost to our already significant efforts over the last two years to improve response times through the use of technology,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said.

Unlike most cities, which rely on a costly mechanical system within the fire engines to change lights, San Jose’s system will be a less expensive software-based solution.

It ties into the fire department’s existing GPS systems and interfaces with the city’s own traffic control network to turn red lights green.

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It is unclear how much faster the department would be able to respond to emergencies, but Patterson said even an improvement as short as 30 seconds would be enough to save lives.