Trimble tackles work zone safety with reduced speed alerts

Work zone safety

More than 18,000 work zone crashes a year involve tractor-trailer trucks. Many times, the reason is the sudden nature of slowing traffic as the trucks approach a work zone, leaving the truck drivers without enough room to safely slow or stop their vehicles. According to data from the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, there were 672 fatal crashes in work zones in 2018, with 203 of them involving a truck.

Trimble, in partnership with Purdue University, is out to change these statistics.

Trimble has developed an alert service that will proactively notify commercial drivers if there is a drop in road speed ahead, and it is already at work on updates to the service, which will launch in the second quarter. The goal is to reduce back-of-queue accidents. Purdue’s Joint Transportation Research Program (JTRP) is assisting in the project.

“We are big believers in the power of technology to empower drivers to make better, smarter, safer decisions on the road,” Dan Popkin, an executive with Trimble MAPS Division, said in a statement. “In the spirit of Trimble’s vision of delivering products and services that connect the physical and digital worlds – and by working with Purdue and the JTRP – we are enhancing our routing, scheduling, visualization and navigation platform to detect locations of work zone traffic queues throughout the U.S. to offer an advanced slowdown alert service to hundreds of thousands of professional drivers using our transportation-oriented solutions and in-cab truck navigation software. We are excited to work with the JTRP to help advance research and pioneer innovative technology that can reduce accidents and ultimately save lives.”

Traffic buildups can happen quickly in work zones as drivers wait until the final seconds to slow down – if at all – causing sudden decelerations for following vehicles. With longer stopping distances required, the more advance notice commercial vehicle drivers can be given, the greater the chance an incident can be prevented.

The National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse said there were approximately 94,000 total work zone crashes in 2017 with 37,000 injuries as a result. There have been over 3,000 fatalities in work zones in the past four years.

“Our research has shown that there is sufficient penetration of connected vehicles operating on highways that we can provide advance warning of interstate queues,” Darcy Bullock, professor of civil engineering and director of the Joint Transportation Research Program at Purdue University, said. “If we can communicate that information in a timely and non-distracting manner to commercial vehicles, this will provide an opportunity to reduce rear-end crashes involving trucks. Because Trimble MAPS has a large footprint in transportation and has deployed commercially designed technology to so many professional drivers worldwide, partnering with the company was an obvious choice.”

Popkin told FreightWaves that he became interested after a visit to Purdue to meet with Bullock and others to learn more about research the university was conducting.

“If you think about Purdue, the university has some pretty impressive technology in [transportation and agriculture],” Popkin said. “We took a trip out to see what they were doing and help build ties… When we went out, we started to take a look at all the things they were doing and it was like, holy cow. Purdue had already done an extensive amount of research that was indicative of how big a problem this was.”

Popkin said the alert system will interpret planned routes from its CoPilot Truck and MileOn by PC*Miler navigation and trip planning apps, and compare that information against real-time traffic incidents, including roadwork and vehicle accidents. It can provide notifications as much as five miles ahead of the slowdown.

It was looking at the Purdue research that clearly identified the need for a service such as this, Popkin said.

“The research exposed that there are these consistently repeatable patterns … where you experience this sudden deceleration in excess of 15 and 20 mph, and they happen at work zones,” he said. “If these patterns are consistently predictable, then theoretically [incidents] are preventable.”

The service will also be part of the Trip Management API in the Trimble MAPS platform. It differs from what is available on traffic apps such as Waze or Google Maps, Popkin said.

“Most of the alerts you are used to seeing would notify you of some kind of incident ahead,” he said, noting that Trimble offers those as well. “What we are really focused on is identifying where the slow down occurs. An 80,000-pound semi can’t stop the way you or I can, which is why we are focused on the core incident.”

Popkin said Trimble is working with many providers of traffic data and speed to collect the initial data and then transform and transmit it to commercial customers in the form of visual and audible alerts. While work zones are the impetus for the service, Popkin said they will work for any situation that triggers a slowdown.

The next step is to make the service more forward-looking. Popkin said Trimble is leveraging its national contacts with state departments of transportation to identify not only where road work is actively taking place, but when it will be taking place, so Trimble can provide “lookahead views” of work along a driver’s current or planned route.

The service is expected to be available in the second quarter of 2020. Users of CoPilot Truck that downloaded the program from an app store will just need to download the update, Popkin said. Those that use CoPilot through another provider will still need to download an update, which will come through that provider. It is available at no cost. It is also available, via the API, to users through electronic logging devices or other telematics platforms.