How Minnesota’s DOT Implemented its Queue Warning System

DOT Warning System

Collisions are one of the most dangerous parts of driving, whether that collision occurs in a parking lot or on the freeway at high speeds. For decades, organizations have been working to find ways to reduce the risk of traffic accidents by implementing new technology in vehicles, roads and more. One great example of this is the new warning systems that are being used by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). By providing a warning to drivers who are nearing a queue of vehicles, this warning system can let people know before it’s time to slow down to prevent accidents. Keep reading to learn more about the Mninnesota DOT queue warning system and how it can help create safer roads in Minnesota and beyond. 

Highway Accidents

Reducing the rate of highway accidents is a tough task that just about every DOT has been working on for a long time. Most of these crashes are rear-end collisions, most of which occur as a result of a driver not slowing down in time when they’re approaching a large queue of vehicles. This isn’t normally a problem on a regular street where people are going at slower speeds, but it can be nearly impossible to stop a vehicle that’s going 70 MPH.

The problem with highway accidents is that drivers are often focused on the road and unaware of what may lie ahead. The key to preventing accidents is to let drivers know when there’s a stoppage in traffic or a roadblock that they need to prepare for. You’ll notice that some of the newer navigation apps have features like this built-in, letting drivers know when there’s an accident up ahead or a stoppage in traffic.

Queue Warnings

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Because traffic stoppages are such a big problem on highways and freeways, MnDOT came up with a system to help warn drivers about what lies ahead on the road. This technology works by using intelligent lane control signals (ILCS) that monitor each lane every half-mile. These signals are designed to collect data about traffic that can provide important information to drivers and DOT officials. By using this system, MnDOT can automatically figure out when there’s a hazard on the road and warn drivers about it while they still have time to stop safely.

The reason traffic stoppages and queues are so dangerous on the freeway is because nobody knows they’re coming. By the time the car in front of you knows they need to stop, you’ll have to slam on your brakes to make sure you stop before rear-ending them. Queue warnings help alert drivers to hazards on the road well before they’re a problem, giving them plenty of time to stop safely without putting anyone in danger. In combination with traffic signs that let drivers know when there’s road work or another obstruction up ahead, these queue warnings can greatly reduce the risk of rear-end accidents on the highway.

Locations

The MnDOT queue warnings using ILCS were first tested out in two locations in 2014: I-35W and I-94. The quick-developing shockwaves on I-94 help researchers understand how to improve the flow of traffic for shockwaves, while the congestion of I-35W gives them an opportunity to learn more about how congestion causes accidents. In addition to using the sensors that are built into each lane, there are also live video cameras that record traffic on these highways to give researchers more information. Using an algorithm, researchers figured out a way to make the ILCS units display a warning when there’s a risk of rear-end collisions.

Results

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As is the case with any study, the results of this warning system are one of the most important parts of the whole process. According to data obtained by MnDOT researchers about the ILCS queue warning systems that were installed in 2014, these rear-end collision warnings greatly reduce the risk of such collisions. I-94 is where the most substantial results were seen, with a 22% decrease in crashes and a 54% decrease in near-crashes. This is proof that warning drivers of the potential for rear-end collisions can have a huge impact.

The results were a little broader on I-35W, where researchers noticed that these ILCS warning systems helped drivers maintain steadier speeds to reduce the amount of congestion. Even without a reduction in accidents, this technology has huge potential in terms of how it could change the way Minnesotans drive on the highway. By reducing congestion and lowering the risk of accidents, MnDOT has found an effective solution to rear-end collisions on the highway.

What’s Next?

Now that this technology has been developed and researched, the next step is figuring out how to perfect the technology and implement it on a larger scale across the state and even the country. Large-scale deployment of this technology could help to reduce congestion on highways across the country, reducing the risk of accidents and allowing drivers to get where they need to go quicker. An increasing number of states continue to research and adopt this technology, and it’s also used by private entities.

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