Research Archive

Rural Safety Initiative: The Approach

The Rural Safety Innovation Program (RSIP), published in the Federal Register on February 29, 2008 [PDF 514 KB], is one element of the Rural Safety Initiative. 

This one-time opportunity is using funds from the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Program and the Delta Region Transportation Development Program (DRTDP).  The RSIP requested applications for funds from road owners for projects to improve safety on rural roads.  Eighty (80) applications were received for ITS Program funds and 16 applications were received for DRTDP funds.  There were 96 initial applications received from state and local governments in 28 states by the April 14, 2008 due date.  Twenty-four (24) applications were selected to be developed into comprehensive proposals for ITS program funds.  The comprehensive Phase II application, review and selection process was completed, and the final project selections were announced on August 27, 2008.

The USDOT has awarded funding to nine state and local transportation agencies through the ITS Program for 11 projects that aim to improve safety on local and rural roads.

California: California Department of Transportation

Augmented Speed Enforcement

A team consisting of California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University is using RSIP funding to research whether the deployment of an augmented Speed Enforcement (aSE) system on State Route 12 (SR 12) in San Joaquin County, California will help to change driver behavior and reduce crash rates in work zones.  The primary function of this system is to communicate relevant speed, violation, and hazard information to the stakeholders in this work zone context.  Stakeholders are the driver, California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers, and the workers.  The aSE includes the following functional components that are shown in the figure below: 

  • Portable radar stations (sensors) that track the speed of vehicles exceeding the advanced work zone speed limit sign.
  • Violators identified by their license plate will receive a speed warning on a dynamic message sign (DMS), shown as a changeable message sign (CMS) in the figure below, at the entrance to the work zone.
  • Once entering the work zone, a series of “smart cones” that are each fitted with a light display (beacon) and with non-radar sensors (e.g., sonar, light) track individual vehicle speed and synchronize the cone/light display to “highlight” and follow any violating vehicle. These lights automatically cancel when the violation is corrected by reducing speed.  This is intended to provide a visual warning to drivers that they are violating the speed limit.
  • A local pager network will be configured to automatically alert (vibration mode) only those workers in direct proximity to the detected hazard.  This pager system will also incorporate a “panic mode” that any worker can trigger in the case of an injury to automatically contact the site supervisor who can request public safety assistance to the work zone.  This panic mode may also trigger a unique and conspicuous sequence of cone lights to alert all workers to the potential injury event. 
  • Those vehicles that do not adhere or adjust to the posted speed limit for the work zone will be notified that they may be subject to a speed citation with an additional DMS, shown as a CMS in the figure below, at the exit of the work zone. 
  • Relevant information about the violating vehicle (e.g., duration of violation, maximum speed, average speed, license plate, vehicle photograph etc.) will be communicated and displayed to downstream CHP officers who can then use their judgment to locate the vehicle and cite the driver based on the information documented by the aSE.

Functional Components of aSE

Functional Components of aSE

Collision Countermeasure System

Caltrans, in partnership with El Dorado County, California Department of Transportation is developing a Collision Countermeasure System (CCS) on US 50 near the community of Camino in El Dorado County.  The system consists of two types of actively illuminated warning signs located on the eastbound and westbound lanes of US 50 and loop detectors on an intersecting road.  When a vehicle on the minor road is detected approaching the intersection, the illuminated signs will warn drivers on US 50 the presence of vehicles approaching the roadway.  Construction of the signs is expected to take place spring 2010. 

Colorado: Colorado Department of Transportation

Wolf Creek Pass

Using RSIP funding, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is in the process of designing a system that consists of in-road light-emitting diode (LED) lighting and dynamic speed messaging signs (DMS).  The system is being developed to address collisions involving vehicles crossing over the centerline of the roadway in Wolf Creek Avalanche Shed.  DMSs will be implemented in advance of both entrances to the Wolf Creek Pass Snow Shed that is located along a curve of US 160 in Mineral County, Colorado.  Trucks transporting freight, ski travelers, tourists, and recreational vehicles heavily use this route.  The in-road LED lighting system will illuminate/delineate the centerline of the roadway and reduce wall hits and crossover accidents in the snow shed. 

The LED lighting will be augmented with speed messaging signs to warn drivers to reduce travel speeds to decrease the likelihood of over-driving the curve in the snow shed resulting in lane departures.  By combining speed warning signs and the in-road light delineation, CDOT anticipates that this system will lower vehicle accident rates and increase vehicle compliance for the posted speeds approaching the curves.

The uniqueness of this project is that CDOT will use the LED in-pavement lighting system to delineate a centerline, no-passing zone within the snow shed where lighting conditions are less than desirable and snow removal operations tend to obliterate conventional stripe delineation.  LED in-road marking is also relatively new to the market, and no standards or design specifications exist.  Consequently, CDOT is currently in the process of developing design specifications relevant for the project.  The system became operational fall 2009.  

US 50

CDOT was also selected through the RSIP to develop and implement a truck tip-over warning system on US 50, a rural, low-volume roadway with low speed curves.  The system will warn all motorists of their speeds prior to the curves.  Most of the accidents occurring on US 50 between mileposts 230 and 231 are fixed object crashes (primarily involving guardrail) and overturning.  These accidents are frequently due to drivers approaching the tight curves on the highway at unsafe speeds.

To address this problem, CDOT will develop an innovative stand-alone ITS application that is independent of a fiber backbone for management and operation.  This application will include dynamic speed warning devices and speed-actuated variable message signs (VMS) that flash warning messages to drivers who travel too fast in advance of each horizontal curve.  Due to lack of power at the location, two of the three signs must be operated with solar power.  To do this, CDOT will use low power LED blank-out signs, rather than the dynamic message sign (DMS) boards used elsewhere in the state, with separate battery packs and solar arrays to power the blank-out signs and radar devices.  The system became operational fall 2009. 

Illinois: Illinois Department of Transportation

Illinois Department of Transportation is using RSIP funds to develop a countermeasure for two sections of roadway that have serious injury and fatal crash histories.  At one location, a system alerts drivers of changing conditions by detecting any approaching vehicles.  This will activate an LED-flashing beacon that is mounted over advanced curve warning signs. 

At the second location, a countermeasure will be implemented to provide advanced warning of a two-way stop.  The countermeasure will also use a vehicle-actuated LED to highlight the stop condition for motorists on the lower volume minor route, as well as warn the driver on the major route of an upcoming intersection.  A total of four beacons will be used at the intersection – one for each approaching leg of the intersection.  The system became operational fall 2009.

Iowa: Iowa Department of Transportation

The Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) is developing a web-based version of the Traffic and Criminal Software (TraCS).   TraCS provides rural law enforcement agencies the capability to improve the accuracy and completeness of crash data, make use of the crash data locally, and improve the timeliness of the crash data submission for inclusion in a statewide database for use by analysts and decision makers.

The goal of the Web-based TraCS system is to electronically transmit and load the data into the state’s statewide crash database, with local agencies will be able to print a copy and query their crash reports to generate reports and create pin-maps.  When completed, this project will assist Iowa along with the 15 other TraCS states and hundreds of rural areas within those states to collect the crash data needed to make data-driven decisions about allocation of scarce resources, including safety improvements.

A Web-based TraCS will allow states to deploy the data collection software to rural law enforcement agencies.  Iowa has approximately 450 law enforcement agencies and has deployed TraCS to 190 of those agencies.  Iowa DOT does not have the staff resources to deploy to the other agencies, which are the small rural agencies.  If the data collection software is made available over the Internet, Iowa DOT will be able to provide password-protected access to all Iowa agencies.  This will result in higher quality data (edits and validations preclude many errors) in a timelier manner.  This can and will be replicated by the 15 other states using TraCS.  Development of TraCS is currently underway.  Beta testing is expected to take place fall 2010 with deployment of the system by the end of the year.   

Kansas: Kansas Department of Transportation

Using RSIP funds, Kansas DOT has entered into a unique partnership with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation to deploy ITS at three intersections along US 75 that provide access to the reservation’s housing population, medical and Tribal Government operations.  ITS technologies that will be deployed to enhance safety and improve winter road maintenance activities include one roadway weather information system station, one closed circuit television camera, two portable dynamic message signs (DMS), and flashing beacons and queue detection system at two other locations along US 75.  Construction is expected to begin in March 2010.

Minnesota: Minnesota Department of Transportation

Approximately 27 percent of all the crash fatalities reported in Minnesota between 2001 and 2005 were on curves in rural areas.  To address this challenge, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn.DOT) in partnership with the University of Minnesota is developing a low-cost technology that may help drivers select an appropriate speed, thereby enhancing safety when approaching a horizontal curve.  The system currently under development is the dynamic curve warning system (DCWS) that may help drivers select an appropriate speed when approaching a horizontal curve.  The DCWS consists of a warning sign combined with a speed measuring device (e.g., radar) that activates a variable message sign (e.g., slow down) when vehicles are traveling above a set specified threshold.  The goal of the proposed DCWS is to evaluate the speed and actual or possibly predicted (based on speed changes) of DCWS installations at three rural roadway horizontal curve locations (with speed-related safety concerns).  Through the RSIP, Mn/DOT will evaluate the potential effects on speed and crash impacts of three permanently installed DCWSs in three Minnesota counties.  If this system proves feasible in enhancing safety, it will be implemented elsewhere in the state of Wisconsin.  The system is expected to be operational late spring or early summer 2010.

South Carolina: South Carolina Department of Transportation

South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is using RSIP funds to implement a number of innovative technology-oriented solutions to improve safety by reducing speed-related, wet weather-related, and roadway departure crashes on a two-mile segment of rural US 25 immediately south of the North Carolina border in Greenville County.  The roadway segment is located in an isolated mountainous area of the county.  Some of the characteristics that make this an ideal location to deploy and test technologies are:

  • The area is subject to unusual weather patterns with frequent fog that dissipates slowly.
  • Roadway geometry changes dramatically from a long straight parkway with grass shoulders in North Carolina to a curved grade with no shoulders in South Carolina.
  • There is insufficient signage for the grade and curve after entering South Carolina.
  • There are no retro-reflective lane delineators along this area of US 25.

With 87 percent of the crashes on this segment related to speeding, the use of variable speed limit (VSL) signing is a particularly important component of the system.  The use of VSL specifically during wet conditions will enforce the need for reduced regulatory speeds during varying weather conditions.  VSL may be extended along US 25 beyond project limits to address safety issues where weather and speed are significant contributing factors if proven useful at this site.  This project will be the first application of VSL in South Carolina.

SCDOT will also construct overhead dynamic message signs (DMSs) at the beginning of the Northbound and Southbound segments of the project.  The proposed overhead signs will provide multiple safety benefits.  The signs will be connected to both speed and weather sensors and display information as conditions warrant.  This capability is particularly important as 62 of the 71 crashes on this short segment of roadway between 2003 and 2007 were listed “Driving Too Fast for Conditions” as a contributing factor, and over 84 percent of the crashes occurred during “Wet” conditions.

This section of roadway has also been identified as a location where cameras will prove both cost effective and beneficial in determining the level of emergency response.  The District Traffic Management Center in Greenville will receive live feed from these cameras to assist in managing any potential congestion and safety issues

The goal of this project is to reduce speed-related and hydroplaning crashes by 50 percent within one year of project implementation on the two-mile segment of the project through the implementation of multiple ITS components.  Construction of the DMSs is expected to make place fall 2010.   

Washington: King County Department of Transportation

King County, Washington Department of Transportation is using RSIP funds to develop and implement two driver feedback signs that activate when a vehicle is detected and displays the vehicles speed at two sites.  The system will use radar to measure the vehicle’s speed.  The display will flash when the measured speed is greater than the advised speed. 

Warning signs will use radar to measure the speed of approaching vehicles.  The display will then flash when the speed of the vehicle exceeds the advisory speeds.  A dynamic message sign (DMS) may also be installed as part of the project.  If installed, signs will display a message (e.g., “slow down”) when the measured speed of the approaching vehicle exceeds the advised speed.  As of January 2010, the signs had been installed but were not yet operational. 

Wisconsin: Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Using RSIP funds, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation will implement, demonstrate, and validate a new Rural Intersection Collision Avoidance System (RICAS).  This new intersection collision avoidance system will use emerging sensing, computation and display technology to provide real-time warnings to drivers before the conditions, which lead to a crash, can develop.  RICAS is being developed to specifically address crashes that result from gap selection errors. 

The intersection of US 53 and State Trunk Highway 77 (STH 77) will serve as the RICAS test site.  RICAS comprises three components: sensing, computation, and an infrastructure-based Driver Infrastructure Interface (DII), which is an active variable message sign. 

Sensors are used on US 53 (mainline road) to determine the position, speed, and lane of travel for vehicles approaching the intersection crossroads.  Automotive radar was selected for this application, as it is accurate, durable, reliable, available, relatively inexpensive, and works in all weather conditions.  Loop detectors are installed in the median and minor road approaches to sense vehicle presence.  If a vehicle has been detected, the system will activate the DII.  The DII relays alert and warnings to a driver as determined by the computational system.  If no vehicle is sensed, the DII will remain inactive, thereby limiting unnecessary distraction to the driver. 

The DII that will be used in the project has been tested in driving simulators, and was on-road tested during the summer of 2008 under the Cooperative Intersection Collision Avoidance Systems – Stop Sign Assist (CICAS-SSA) program.  The system is expected to become operational in April 2010.  RICAS will be implemented at other critical intersections along US 53 and other high risk rural roads throughout Wisconsin if it proves successful at the US 53 / STH 77. 

Placement of Equipment for RICAS Test Site in Minong, Wisconsin

Placement of Equipment for RICAS Test Site in Minong, Wisconsin