FSU research studies “smart” road signs to prevent wrong-way driving accidents
Florida State University’s groundbreaking road safety research, incorporating a fascinating blend of engineering and psychology, is being deployed on highways to save lives by targeting a deadly problem: reverse driving accidents.
The statistics are alarming. Nationally, reverse crashes kill about 350 people a year and injure thousands more, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Walter Boot, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at FSU and an expert in cognition and perception, compiled two misconduct reports for the Florida Department of Transportation. Research identifies âsmarterâ road signs and markers equipped with advanced technology that can improve safety.
Boot’s recommendations will help shape future countermeasures for off-driving. The Florida Department of Transportation is testing these and other recommendations on the most effective safety measures.
âIt’s a no-brainer,â Boot said. âWe need to develop, test and install more visible countermeasures against wrongdoing. We tested new technology-based, radar-triggered traffic alerts to determine which worked best. The evidence we have gathered suggests that these detection-triggered countermeasures will be more effective than traditional countermeasures in the wrong direction. “
Boot began collecting this evidence under a contract with the state Department of Transportation following an unusual series of fatal back-to-back crashes in the Tampa Bay area in 2014.
One in particular, a horrific crash on Interstate 275, added urgency to the search for more effective countermeasures.
Early one morning in February of that year, a drunk driver drove in the wrong direction in the northbound lanes for more than 10 miles. Speeding into oncoming traffic in a 5,000-pound Ford Expedition, the driver slammed into a car with four students. The fiery accident killed the five young men.
“Reverse crashes are rare, accounting for only about 3% of road crashes, but they are 27 times more fatal,” Boot said. “It’s tragic, but it continues to happen.”
Boot was determined to reverse this chronic tendency to reverse driving, which dates back to the 1960s and the original construction of controlled access highways. He embarked on a multi-year research project using his expertise in visual processing and visual cognition to test traffic signs and pavement markers triggered by detection. The aim was to identify âsmartâ technology that would allow better detection and prevention of reverse driving and could be integrated into new warning systems.
Boot’s research team found that installing more countermeasures before the exit ramps helped, but more warnings were needed to get motorists’ attention once they started driving in the wrong way. direction. The next line of defense would be to install alerts that could cause misguided drivers to admit their mistake, stop driving, and turn around.
The team, in collaboration with the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida and the Florida International University, evaluated seven high-tech countermeasures. They included blank radar-triggered signs that illuminated immediately when they detected reverse movement, as well as illuminated beacons that flashed asynchronously.
The research included field trials on Florida freeways. As a team of state soldiers and traffic engineers closed the exit ramps in the middle of the night, Boot deliberately drove in the wrong direction on the roads and ramps fitted with prototypes of the seven counter- measures.
A prototype appeared empty until it detected movement in the wrong direction, then it started flashing the message “WRONG WAY”.
Boot said the feeling of driving on an exit ramp and traveling the wrong way was surreal.
âIt was scary because I knew I was doing something very dangerous, but we had a lot of cops there to make sure it was safe,â Boot said. âHaving a first-hand perspective was invaluable as I could see how countermeasures might or might not work. “
Field tests recorded video of what Boot saw as he navigated through the countermeasures. These recordings were then used to develop scenarios that could be imported into FSU driving simulators.
Then, Boot’s team enlisted 189 pilots to take the wheel of the simulators. They tested participants’ reactions to real road situations.
The studies also tested the effectiveness of countermeasures on impaired drivers, as these motorists are responsible for nearly 50% of reverse crashes, according to a study by the Florida Department of Transportation. The researchers placed visual and auditory distractions in the simulators to mimic alcohol poisoning.
Roadway signs and markers along with other countermeasures have proven to be the most effective countermeasures for impaired drivers.
âThe sudden appearance of something new is the most effective thing you can do to catch someone’s eyes and attention, and all of the most effective countermeasures have used this technique,â ââsaid Boot. “People’s brains are wired to pay attention to things that pop up suddenly, and pretty much anything we tested with a blinking red light worked fine.”
Raj Ponnaluri, project manager at the Florida Department of Transportation, said FSU’s research will help guide future work with traffic signs and pavement markers to mitigate reverse crashes.
âIt helps us better understand the need for new security technologies, and now we are testing them,â Ponnaluri said. “I think Florida is emerging as a nationwide leader in developing countermeasures for wrongdoing, and FSU research is one of the reasons why.”