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Warning System May Alleviate Crashes At Intersections
April 1, 2011

University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) transportation-safety engineers are testing a system on a northern Wisconsin highway that could help reduce crashes at rural intersections across the country.

While a vast system of limited-access interstate highways connects major cities around the United States, an even greater number of back roads and county and state highways enables drivers to travel efficiently from farm to farm, and town to town.

Yet, the eminently accessible nature of these rural roadways is also the very thing that makes them dangerous – particularly in places where two roads meet. “Intersection crashes account for 45 percent of all crashes, and 21 percent of fatal crashes,” says Madhav Chitturi, an assistant researcher in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory, or TOPS Lab.

Motorists on a rural road often encounter a two-way stop at the road’s intersection with a primary road, at which point they must remain stopped for traffic from the left or right. “Up to 80 percent of all rural intersection right-angle crashes are due to the selection of an insufficient gap by a driver entering or crossing the primary traffic stream,” Dr. Chitturi says.

Developed at the University of Minnesota Intelligent Vehicle Lab, the Rural Intersection Collision Avoidance System aims to avoid these crashes by giving real-time warnings about unsafe gaps to drivers crossing the primary traffic stream.

The system is comprised of three components: sensing, computation and electronic message signs. Sensors on the main road determine the position, speed and lane of travel for vehicles approaching the intersection. The computation system collects data from the sensor, computes vehicle trajectories and assesses crash threats. This threat assessment yields three states in the system: inactive, which means there is no traffic threat; alert, which means there are conditions that require careful consideration; and warning, a situation in which drivers should avoid dangerous maneuvers. As determined by the computational system, the electronic message sign relays those relevant alerts and warnings to a driver waiting at an intersection.

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