Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 18, 2013

4 states to test tech that targets slick roads

DETROIT (AP) — Four states will be using new technology this winter that federal officials say they hope will reduce traffic crashes and save on road maintenance costs.

Sensors are going on snowplows in an effort to continually measure road and weather conditions.

Called the Pikalert Enhanced Maintenance Decision Support System, it’s being deployed on highways across Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada, as well as on Long Island, N.Y. If EMDSS passes certain tests, the technology will be transferred to private vendors and become available to additional states in time for next winter.

The system, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and built by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, combines the sensor measurements with satellite and radar observations and computer weather models.

The idea is to give officials a near-real time picture of road conditions.

“This offers the potential to transform winter driving safety,” NCAR scientist Sheldon Drobot, who oversees the design of the system, said in a statement. “It gives road crews an incredibly detailed, mile-by-mile view of road conditions. They can quickly identify the stretches where dangerous ice and snow are building up.”

Car crashes involving wintry conditions and other hazardous weather claim the lives of more than 4,000 people in the U.S. and injure several hundred thousand each year, according to NCAR.

Transportation officials, who rely on ground-based observation stations that can be spaced more than 60 miles apart, sometimes lack critical information about road conditions in their states.

With updates every five to 15 minutes, EMDSS is designed to make those officials aware of dangerous stretches of road before conditions cause accidents.

Steven Cook, operations/maintenance field services engineer with the Michigan Department of Transportation, said he thinks the new system could make a real difference in his state.

“With information like this, we can more accurately pinpoint changing road conditions in the winter that need treatment and alert drivers of potential hazardous conditions before they encounter them,” he said.

Or as Drobot put it: “We want to reduce that white-knuckle experience of suddenly skidding on ice.”

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