Reporters and transportation agency representatives gathered under a tent near a repurposed runway at The Texas A&M University System’s RELLIS Campus August 17. They watched as Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Research Engineer Melisa Finley — known for her innovative studies on wrong-way drivers — led a first-of-its-kind and successful connected-vehicle demonstration funded by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
Finley and Senior Research Analyst Cameron Mott of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) described how the system would operate ahead of the demonstration.
Dedicated short range communications (DSRC) radios mounted along the roadway were set up to detect a connected vehicle as it entered a highway exit ramp from the wrong direction. Integration with existing detectors would provide multiple alerts, one of them triggering a wrong-way warning sign, viewable to the driver along the roadway. Meanwhile, another connected vehicle would travel the correct direction and encounter the wrong-way driving vehicle. Warnings displayed in both vehicles would inform drivers of the impending collision, and a traffic management center (displayed to the crowd on a big screen monitor) would immediately be notified of the incident. A nearby law enforcement vehicle would also receive notification that a wrong-way driving event was taking place.
All of it played out as promised, and members of the crowd were invited to ride inside the vehicles as the demonstration was repeated multiple times, giving everyone a chance to witness the technology firsthand.
Currently, about 240 wrong-way driving events are reported each year on Texas freeways. Previous research by Finley has shown that most wrong-way drivers are inebriated. Various countermeasures she studied, including flashing wrong-way signs, were implemented along the US Highway 281 corridor in San Antonio. The countermeasures resulted in a 38 percent decrease in wrong-way driving incidents.
“Countermeasures do work, but, unfortunately, because drivers are under the influence of alcohol, they will continue to drive the wrong way. We suspect that once implemented, those drivers may not respond to connected vehicle warnings either. But with this technology, innocent drivers have the chance to react, and law enforcement will get a head start in preventing a crash,” Finley said.
The project, Connected Vehicle Wrong-Way Driving Detection & Mitigation Demonstration, began in February 2015 as a joint effort between TTI and SwRI. TxDOT chose to fund it under its innovative research project program.
“There are more than 32,000 high-end luxury vehicles on the road today that came equipped from the factory with connected-vehicle technology,” Mott stated. “Once federally mandated, that number will grow substantially, through an aggressive phase-in period. I could see this providing an improvement to the safety of travelers as early as 2020. We know this is something we have to get ahead of.”
Although the demonstration project has ended, TxDOT is considering a new phase of wrong-way driving research. It’s possible that a specific Texas roadway could become part of a connected-vehicle, wrong-way driving test location.
“One of TxDOTs goals is to reduce crashes and fatalities by continuously improving guidelines and innovations. So far, this project has been a success. I hope to see the continued study of connected-vehicle, wrong-way driving detection and mitigation,” said TxDOT Research Project Manager Darrin Jensen. “TTI’s researchers have done a wonderful job of helping prepare TxDOT for the fast approaching connected vehicle environment. We need to continue to assure that Texas is ready.”