All Give and No Take?

ATSSA held their midyear meetings August 12th through the 14th. The Innovation Council (formerly the ITS Council) was one of the first meetings and was very well attended. We were discussing V2I and how our systems will supply data when one of our members asked a great question. Eric Tennessen of Warning Lites of Minnesota asked, “When will vehicles talk to the work zone?” Cars, trucks and even cell phones collect a great deal of information. When and how can we begin to use that data to make our work zones safer?

He makes a great point. We are supplying information to V2I systems. Our work zone ITS sensors collect and disseminate average speeds, travel times, queue warnings and even suggest alternate routes. It is all give and no take. It is time we begin thinking about what those vehicles can tell us.

Several examples come immediately to mind. Many cars now “wake” the drivers when they exhibit behavior typical of a sleepy driver. Why can’t that data be sent to systems in work zones immediately downstream?

That could also be done for vehicles driving well in excess of the posted speed limit, or for those making frequent lane changes or following too close. Those are the drivers whose behavior will cause rear-end and side swipe collisions when others slow for work zones.

There are bound to be privacy issues. And we don’t want drivers turning these features off out of fear that their cars will report them to authorities. So such a system would have to report problem drivers approaching the work zone without actually identifying them.

There is also the problem of false alarms or, more likely, too many alarms. Any aggressive driver warning system will be beeping more often than not. But this could still be useful. When law enforcement is in place in the work zone, they could be alerted automatically. During night work when volumes are lower and drivers more likely to be impaired, workers could be warned to watch for them. I really don’t know how best to make use of that information. But I do know it can and should be used to improve work zone safety.

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