Recently, the PennDOT received a large grant from the United States Department of Transportation to begin testing the use of automated driving systems in work zones. It is the first initiative of this kind in the country. The goal of this project is to increase safety by integrating automated vehicles at roadway worksites, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Pennsylvania State University, and Carnegie Mellon University will be collaborating in this innovative joint effort. With the objective of decreasing the number of collisions, deaths, and injuries caused in and around road work zones, it has received national recognition.
“Crashes in highway work zones have killed at least 4,700 Americans – more than two a day – and injured 200,000 in the last five years alone. If we can improve how AV’s interact with work zones, there will be significant safety benefits for the traveling public,” explains PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards.
Testing the Use of Automated Vehicles
Currently, work zones are dangerous for motorists and workers. In Pennsylvania, specifically, work zone accidents have increased in the last decade, according to PennDOT statistics. To begin to address this issue, PennDot and its local partners were awarded the $8.4 million grant to test the use of automated driving systems (ADS). The team of researchers will study how better connectivity, visibility, and high-definition mapping will impact their performance in work zones.
A self-driving vehicle developed by Carnegie Mellon University – known as the “birthplace of self-driving vehicles” – will be used during the testing process. Additionally, an HD roadway mapping vehicle will be provided by Penn State to assist in data collection related to location, speed, and lane designations. It’s important to note that AV testing regulations require the presence of human drivers ready to take control of the vehicle if necessary.
Testing will be done with a wide range of worksite configurations in different simulated contexts – in cities, rural and suburban areas. In the final phase, testing will be carried out in actual work zones along the roadways, including those in Delaware and Lancaster counties. Local authorities should notify residents before testing on regular roadways begins.
The Goal of Using AVs in Pennsylvania
Over a four-year span, this project will work to verify the safety and practicality of using AV solutions in work zones. It will involve ongoing testing, simulations, and gradual integration with real drivers and machinery operators. The data collected by the team will be used to overcome the challenges currently blocking the regular use of automated vehicle technology. For example, other testing has shown that automated vehicle detection systems aren’t reliable because many work zone cues are designed for human drivers.
PennDOT aims to understand how automated vehicles can be used to make roadwork safer for operators and drivers. With improved technology, the team hopes to demonstrate how connected and autonomous vehicles impact traffic flow and safety factors in different situations. Ultimately, the solutions developed will be applied in work zones throughout the Commonwealth.
Automated Speed Enforcement in Work Zones
Just last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission began another work zone safety project. Automated speed enforcement devices were posted at work zones throughout the state starting in January. These vehicle-mounted systems monitor the speed of automobiles and trucks passing work zones. Next month, the authorities will begin enforcing regulations and issuing violations to motorists who don’t respect the work zone speed limits.
Worksites that have automated speed limit enforcement will be marked by signs and listed on the PennDOT website. For now, offenders will be issued a warning. Then, starting in March, speeding tickets of $75 to $150 will be sent automatically to the registered owner of the vehicle.
What’s on the Horizon for Driver Safety in Pennsylvania?
The Commonwealth has always been a leader in innovation. Pennsylvania continues to fuel innovation related to the development and on-road testing of Highly Automated Vehicles (HAV) and automated guided vehicles. PennDOT has also played an active role in setting strong safety standards regarding the use of this type of technology and a federal automated vehicles policy
These local authorities plan to keep paving the way for technological research and public safety solutions. Looking ahead to 2040, for example, PennDOT is already studying how connected and autonomous vehicles can be utilized to improve the surface transportation network in the state. Their vision for 2040 lays out years of research which will be dedicated to the development of AVs, communication devices, data networks, workforce training, and the related investments needed.
PennDOT has also joined the Smart Belt Coalition to join forces with universities, technology leaders, and transportation agencies in other states. Along with PTC, Ohio DOT, the Ohio Turnpike, and Michigan DOT, they will work to create more automated and connected vehicle initiatives. The coalition supports research, testing, policy-making, funding campaigns, and integration programs.
Related article: New Car Technology Being Developed to Decrease Crashes.
Roadway Safety Is a Top Priority
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