New systems leverage vehicle and roadside technologies to thwart head-on collisions caused by wrong-way drivers
Researchers at UCF and the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) have patented methods for systems that help prevent head-on collisions when drivers wrongfully enter roadways. The technologies (UCF IDs: 33441, 33714, and 33716) can be used to alert and stop wrong-way drivers (WWDs) and to also notify right-way drivers, authorities and police of possible oncoming danger. Employing unique Rectangular Flashing Beacon (RFB) signs, motion sensors, controllers, wireless communication devices and navigation servers, the technologies integrate with existing transportation infrastructures and driver assistance technologies in cars (called “connected vehicles”).
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports that WWDs cause only a small percentage of crashes; however, the collisions often result in severe injuries and fatalities. Thus, prevention is crucial. Yet, many existing WWD countermeasures comprise mere warning signs, reflective tape, pavement markings or LED lights that can be difficult to see, especially at night. Some systems include flashing warning signs, but such deterrents are usually not enough to stop drivers who are severely intoxicated, confused or suicidal. Still, other technologies require expensive setup and equipment. Though car manufacturers have developed “connected vehicles” or CVs to try and keep drivers safe, capabilities such as Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), automatic braking, wireless communications, and heads-up displays, still leave the public vulnerable to WWDs.
As a comprehensive solution, the new technologies more effectively alert drivers than the other WWD countermeasures. In a research study of the RFB technology, 75 percent of participants who watched videos of both RFBs and LED signs said that the RFB, with its alternating high frequency flashing lights, was better (more noticeable) than comparable LEDs. The systems have been deployed on Florida limited access highways to work with existing traffic management infrastructures, and provide real-time, wireless communications capabilities for warning right-way drivers.
The wrong-way detection, alert and countermeasure systems can comprise one or more RFB warning stations for various roadways, such as exit ramps of limited access highways (toll roads and turnpikes) and high-speed roads. Each exit ramp has at least two warning stations that include “Wrong Way” signs with two sets of flashing beacons, front and rear facing sensors and cameras, a communications device, and a controller.
As illustrated in Figure 1, when movement sensors detect a WWD entering an off ramp, the flashing beacons activate, and a camera takes a confirmation photo of the scene sending an alert and image to the transportation management center (TMC). If the rear-facing movement sensors installed on the signs detect that the vehicle has passed the warning station, then another camera takes a confirmation photo. At many exit ramps, a third camera is installed to verify whether the WWD self-corrects before entering the mainline, thus enabling operators to determine if law enforcement is needed at the site (which saves time and allows them to address other more critical needs). The system also notifies the local highway traffic operations center (such us a public transportation authority or law enforcement).
TMC operators can also use the communications device of technology 33441 to broadcast a vehicle alert to an electronic message board that displays a warning to right-way drivers. Additionally, technology 33714 can be used to warn drivers via existing smartphone software such as Waze, Google Maps or GPS in real time about a WWD. The driver can receive text or audio warnings or both.
Finally, technology 33716 coordinates with CV technology to issue countermeasure commands to the CV’s heads-up display. For example, the display could tell the driver that he/she is going the wrong way and should turn around. If the driver continues up the ramp, the system can then issue another countermeasure to activate the vehicle’s LKAS, which steers it to the side of the road and applies the brakes until the vehicle stops completely.
- Easily integrates with existing driver-assistance technologies and highway infrastructures
- Attracts the attention of wrong-way drivers much better than existing light emitting diodes (LEDs)
- Data collected for over 3 years at Florida exit ramps where technologies are deployed shows that more than 80 percent of wrong way drivers at exit ramps have safely self-corrected without incident
- Effectively prevents catastrophic injuries and fatalities
- Exit ramps of limited access highways (toll roads and freeways)
- Any public or private high-speed roadways where wrong-way driving may occur