I've been wondering about this ever since I was a little kid and I used to ride in the back of the car and my mom would speed like hell towards a green light, only to slam on the brakes when she realized she wasn't going to make it.
Here is my question, loosely phrased: Given that we want to make it across the intersection before the light is up, what should be our position function? To make things precise, we could specify some initial conditions, put a cap on the car's acceleration/deceleration (or its speed or its jerk or whatever), fix a probability distribution on when the light will change, and assign some point values to our happiness if we make the light vs. don't make the light vs. end up entering the intersection after the light has changed and get a ticket for it. And then of course we could throw in the extra curveball of a yellow light warning you that it's about to turn red...
A similar question arises if you're approaching a red light but you think it might turn green soon. Ideally you'd like to enter the intersection at the highest possible speed just after the light has turned green, but then again you don't want to enter when it's still red.
I'm sure a computer could solve such problems easily, but it seems like there should be some better way to think about this than just asking a machine to do it for me. For the first question, it seems like the answer will just be either "hit the gas and go for it" or "cruise to a stop and don't plan on going through", depending on the parameters. (Of course, there might be something in the "go just fast enough that you can slow down and not enter on a red" plan if the cost of a ticket is high enough.) On the other hand, the second question seems to admit much more interplay between probability and differential equations. The real issue here is that I know almost nothing about either of these two fields. Any ideas?