Apr 5, 2023 - News

Tech research hits Ohio's highways

Illustration of a hand guiding a computer mouse on a highway-themed mouse pad.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A vehicle crashes on a highway, automatically alerting first responders to its location and severity.

  • As emergency crews mobilize, the speed limit near the scene is lowered to help ward off secondary crashes.

Why it matters: This potential scenario is an example of how Ohio can get smarter about responding to crashes ā€” and hopefully preventing them.

  • The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) received a $2 million federal grant through the bipartisan infrastructure bill to research new highway safety technology, potentially saving many lives.
  • Transportation officials use extensive data to inform traffic engineering, but unpredictable factors like distracted driving and weather complicate that planning. Using new technology to make real-time adjustments is more efficient.

What they're saying: "We're seeing this rapid transformation in transportation, using technology to solve problems that engineering alone can't solve," ODOT spokesperson Breanna Badanes tells Axios.

  • Harnessing these advancements would be "another tool in our toolbox" toward maintaining safe roadways, she says.

State of play: One grant-funded project seeks to alert officials and first responders whenever an airbag is deployed.

  • Another hopes to process highway data to predict areas where a crash is most likely to occur.
  • The state could then warn drivers via overhead message signs to stay alert and proactively place emergency crews in hazardous areas.

The intrigue: Select highways, including Route 670 east from downtown, already feature "variable speed limits" that can be adjusted on the fly.

  • State lawmakers have the authority to expand this system to other highways across Ohio, but have not yet done so.

By the numbers: There were 265,000 crashes recorded across Ohio last year, per the state highway patrol, with thousands reported on well-traveled highways like Routes 270, 70, and 71.

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest concentration of crashes happen during high-volume times of day ā€” when real-time safety warnings could reach the most number of drivers.
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