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The current intersection of a smart technology boom and a safety epidemic on American roads has created the opportunity for new traffic incident management tech to shape safety practices nationwide.
There's the relatively recent ability of motorists to call police in the event of a crash without needing to find a payphone or hope for a home or business with a phone nearby — a real problem in some of the more sparsely populated areas of the country.
And there's the longer-standing problem of technology’s ability to distract drivers with noise or flashing lights and cause crashes.
Autonomous vehicles may even be able to prevent most traffic incidents, but that is still many years away.
Many transportation departments and law enforcement agencies are deploying cameras at key locations on roadways.
These are monitored from centralized control rooms that are manned 24/7, and therefore allow traffic operations centers to identify incidents when they happen.
First responders can be alerted immediately and dispatched to the correct location, without someone having to call it in or figure out where they are — the cameras enable controllers to respond to solo incidents, as well.
Cameras also allow for active management of traffic signals, since controllers can watch lines form and adjust signal timing accordingly.
Another use for cameras in traffic incident management are the body-cameras many police departments have adopted.
Police responding to a crash can record information for insurers and investigators. They can also collect information about cars being driven dangerously, by the incident, and thus help prevent future ones.
Other sensors that can alert first responders include internet of things devices that can detect, for instance, when a car breaks a guard rail. There are also sensors embedded in roads that detect rock falls, floods, or other issues that would require traffic to be diverted.
Communications technology is a rapidly evolving part of traffic incident management.
Once upon a time, though police officers were equipped with two-way radios, car phones were uncommon luxuries. As such, it was possible for motorists to wind up quite some distance from a phone. It was a time where lengthy delays often proved fatal.
Some states installed emergency phones at regular locations along highways, but this didn’t entirely solve the problem since telephone lines were vulnerable to being severed or damaged.
Another problem was ensuring responders had accurate location information. People aren’t always good at estimating distances, and are even worse when disoriented, concussed, or in shock. Hence the highway mileage markers still used today.
Cell phones and 9-1-1 systems revolutionized the ability of people to report incidents, while push notifications and emergency alerts allow traffic ops teams to send messages about crashes, closed roads, maintenance or diversions to people directly. Now cell phones can provide location data even when they’re off.
And data and analytics are two very important tools for traffic incident management.
Location data can be collected and analyzed, determining the location of incidents before the first responders can be notified.
According to Carto, mobility data from cell phones can help identify the locations and conditions under which traffic incidents occur. Data doesn’t just have to come from phones, though — Urban SDK uses data from a variety of sources, such as roadways, safety databases, weather forecasts and even OTMs for predictive analytics.
The future of traffic incident management will likely be dictated by the future of automobiles.
Autonomous vehicles will make many traffic incidents unlikely, but they will still need up to date data to effectively navigate.
Even if autonomous vehicles prove unable to replace most traffic, or are less fully autonomous than software developers promise, traffic ops or first responders may be able to send notifications directly to vehicles and keep them away from incident sites.
In addition, embedded sensors in roads could play a role in alerting motorists and first responders, or guiding cars through construction zones or crash sites, according to Intel.
In short, we can expect traffic incident management to get smarter in line with automotive and smart cities technology.