New driver-warning technology, developed by Antoine G. Hobeika of Blacksburg, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, alerts drivers when they attempt to conduct illegal passing maneuver in dangerous no-passing zones. Currently, this technology is being tested on Route 114, located in Christiansburg, Va. By stopping violators before they attempt to pass, deadly accidents can be avoided.
The busiest part of Route 114, or Peppers Ferry Road, is a five-mile stretch that connects the New River Valley Mall and the Radford Army Ammunition Plant. This stretch of the road has an average daily traffic volume of 12,000 vehicles and one of the crest curves has been the scene of multiple serious accidents.
Statistics indicate that from January 1994 to November 2000, 11 fatal crashes occurred in this five-mile area resulting in a total of 12 deaths and 29 injuries. Five of these crashes occurred on the stretch described above and all these crashes were head-on collisions.
The statistics show that most of the fatal crashes were caused by violators who crossed the solid yellow line at high speeds to pass the vehicles in front of them and collided with a vehicle that was traveling in the opposing lane. In addition, 167 other crashes occurred on Route 114 resulting in 181 injuries during this time period.
In spite of the two solid yellow line markings and the "No Passing" signs that prohibit passing maneuvers, many drivers attempt to make an overtake maneuver on the crests in this area of the road without having clear visibility of the opposing traffic and sufficient passing sight distance.
To minimize the number of head-on collisions and mitigate their severity, Hobeika's research, funded by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), includes the design and deployment of a detection and warning system (shown in Figure 1). The warning system aims at deterring drivers from illegally conducting a passing maneuver within the no-passing zone area.
There are four cameras installed on each side of the road, raised to an elevation that assures the largest detection area per camera possible. As the driver illegally attempts to enter the opposing lane, the violating driver is warned by flashing lights on two signs to stop the attempt to pass. "The project objectives were to keep the system simple, easy to deploy and operate, and easy for the drivers to understand," Hobeika said.
This system is currently operational on Route 114 and its main function is to warn the no-passing zone violator. However the system's functionality is not restricted to detection and warning actions only. It also collects data and statistics about the count, speed and density of the regular traffic including the violating drivers.
The initial system was tested on Virginia Tech's Smart Road, a test bed for transportation research projects, before it was deployed on Route 114. Field tests on Route 114 have shown a 100 percent reliability of the system to detect violators. Hobeika added, "It is important to take research from the laboratory to the street to solve real world problems, and in this case help communities reduce their accident rates and save lives."