Ohio tests state-of-the-art smart technology to make roads safer, especially in bad weather

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
January 04, 2019, 2:23:48 PM EST

When driving in inclement weather conditions or heavy traffic, imagine if your vehicle could warn you about icy roads ahead or if a driver a few cars in front of you suddenly slams on their brakes.

This futuristic-sounding technology is currently being implemented in Ohio as part of the largest-ever research project involving connected vehicle technology, which is shaping the future of transportation nationwide, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The technology allows vehicles, traffic lights, crosswalks and other infrastructure to communicate crucial information, including letting drivers know that a car at the upcoming intersection will run a red light or that a pedestrian is on the sidewalk ahead where a driver plans to make a right turn, creating a safer and smarter travel experience.

The project is a collaboration between the Ohio Department of Transportation’s DriveOhio program, local partners and Honda, which has manufacturing and research facilities near Marysville, Ohio, and recently demonstrated their smart intersection technology in the city.

Ohio smart technology - The Ohio Department of Transportation

Connected technology installed on a traffic light in Marysville, Ohio, communicates with connected vehicles as they approach. (Photo/Ohio Department of Transportation)

It’s hoped that Marysville's 27 traffic lights and 1,200 vehicles will all be updated with connected technology by 2020.

The technology is proving especially beneficial at intersections, which is where the most dangerous accidents happen in Marysville, according DriveOhio Executive Director Jim Barna.

Nationwide, more than 50 percent of the crashes causing death or injury happen at or near intersections, according to the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.

“We’re outfitting signals with a bunch of new technology to where the signals can recognize input all around the signal – input like pedestrians, bicyclists and emergency vehicles approaching,” Barna told AccuWeather.

This type of technology is referred to as vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication, a wireless technology aimed at enabling data exchanges between a vehicle and its surroundings.

“It can process that information and actually send it to a vehicle as to give a vehicle a warning about a potential conflict,” Barna said.

DriveOhio continues to work with automotive companies, which are testing what technology they’ll add to vehicles to equip them to receive information.

“What we’re doing to get the public acclimated to the technology is putting some aftermarket kits in the vehicle, and they’ll be able to read that information,” Barna said.

Ultimately, the idea is that the cars coming off the assembly line will have something there, whether that’s your current navigation screen, or in a heads-up display format to where you’re going to get that information as a standard option," he said.

Smart technology in severe weather

In 2015, Ohio had the most winter driving accidents, and 143 deadly crashes happened during snowy or icy conditions in the winter months, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center.

Connected vehicle technology - The Ohio Department of Transportation

A connected technology application displays traffic signal information and speed recommendations on an on-board tablet as a driver pulls up to an intersection. (Photo/Ohio Department of Transportation)

One corridor in particular that DriveOhio is focusing on for this new technology is Interstate 90, just east of Cleveland.

“We’re looking at a rural interstate application on a corridor where we have some of the most inclement weather in the state of Ohio – wintry weather, for that matter,” Barna said, adding that the weather conditions are a result of the lake-effect snow coming from Lake Erie.

That stretch of interstate highway has historically had major, violent pileups, some of which involved up to 70 vehicles, Barna said.

Some changes currently in the works for this corridor include digital speed limit signs, which operators can control during inclement weather conditions.

“Anytime the weather gets too bad, we can change that from 70 mph all the way down to what we deem appropriate for that weather,” Barna said. “We’ve been down to 35 and 40 mph a few times because of visibility issues up there.”

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Advanced weather sensors are also being added along that corridor, allowing the Ohio Department of Transportation to better detect changes in weather that would impact visibility and road conditions, allowing them to reduce speed limits as quickly as possible.

The smart technology is expected to make a significant impact on cities where the daily commute is a struggle for those in Ohio.

Data from each vehicle is completely anonymous, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation, but the information will help traffic management centers make adjustments like re-timing traffic lights, opening the shoulder to traffic or adjusting speed limits to help alleviate congestion.

Experts say that the pilot project will make implementing the technology across the U.S. in the near future a faster and easier process.

“It’s helpful for us to exchange information with other states that are looking at similar efforts and exchange data with them,” Barna said. “That’s a big part of how we avoid reinventing the wheel as well as take lessons learned from other areas so we don’t encounter those problems in Ohio.”

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