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Technical Report

Technology and Safety on Urban Roadways: The Role of ITS in WSDOT

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Publication: Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC)
Publication Date: 2006

This report examines the relationship between Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and safety from an urban perspective.

Existing urban ITS systems are either system-level or site-level applications. System-level ITS, such as freeway management systems or traffic signal networks, address safety concerns only indirectly. These systems are designed to improve traffic flows and thus indirectly reduce collisions caused by congestion. Other system-level ITS used to increase the efficiency of transit, commercial vehicle, and emergency service operations also benefit safety indirectly. Site-level ITS applications, such as railroad/highway crossing warnings or work zone systems, are installed to directly address safety concerns. However, these applications are limited to specific locations identified as hazardous.

Most urban crashes in Washington involve multiple vehicle collisions caused by driver error at locations that have not been identified as hazardous. Future ITS systems known collision avoidance systems (CAS) hold considerable promise for urban roadway safety because these in-vehicle devices will inform drivers of judgment errors and can do so at many locations along an urban roadway system.

A handful of ITS applications are so well tested that they can be aggressively pursued by WSDOT as tools to reduce urban crashes. Most of these applications include the various systems, such a ramp meters and incident detection, used for freeway management. Other ITS safety applications, while promising, still need to be fully documented and are best used as demonstration applications. Most of these applications involve sensor technology used to warn drivers about road and roadside hazards at specific sites. The greatest safety benefit from ITS may come from in-vehicle collision warning systems. These applications should evolve from a number of large federal research projects and private industry initiatives that are under way. Given their potential impact on safety, WSDOT should monitor applications of these projects.

Authors: Dr. Ed McCormack, Bill Legg
Recommended Citation:
McCormack, E., Legg, B. (2000). Technology and Safety on Urban Roadways: The Role of ITS in WSDOT. Research Report, Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC). Washington State Transportation Center, U.S. Department of Transportation.