FDOT Wrong Way Driving Initiative Receives National Roadway Safety Award

State Arterial Management Systems Engineer, Raj Ponnaluri (second row, third from left), accepts the National Roadway Safety Award for FDOT’s Wrong Way Driving Initiative.

Over the last few years, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Traffic Engineering and Operations Office worked with researchers to prevent wrong way driving and the serious crashes it can cause. The Wrong Way Driving Mitigation Initiative was recently awarded a 2017 National Roadway Safety Award from the Federal Highway Administration. This award annually recognizes public agencies for projects and initiatives that save lives on U.S. highways. Congratulations Traffic Ops!

Though crashes from wrong way driving are rare, they are much more likely to result in a fatality than other types of crashes. FDOT efforts to prevent wrong way driving have reduced these, but a series of crashes in Florida in 2014 revealed more work was required. Decision makers needed to know why and where wrong way driving incidents were happening, and how best to prevent them.

FDOT first commissioned the Statewide Wrong Way Crash study in 2015. In this project, researchers at Kittelson and Associates examined wrong way crashes in Florida between 2009 and 2013. They discovered that interchange design was not a factor and that a wrong way crash was 16 times more likely to involve an impaired driver. Factoring in results of historical analysis and field observation, they proposed three different levels of signage and intelligent traffic system countermeasures.

To gauge the effectiveness of these different tiers of wrong way driving mitigation , FDOT contracted Florida State University (FSU).  In this project, Driving Simulator Studies of the Effectiveness of Countermeasures to Prevent Wrong Way Crashes, Dr. Walter Boot and his team of researchers tested the effectiveness of the proposed countermeasures in a laboratory and in driving simulator studies with both significantly younger and significantly older drivers—the two groups most likely to be involved in a wrong way incident.

In the simulator, drivers navigated a diamond interchange on Interstate 75.. The researchers assessed how drivers interpreted the three tiers of countermeasures and which ones generated driver hesitation or error. The researchers tested participants under the conditions most commonly associated with their age group’s wrong way driving. For younger drivers, those conditions are at night and under the influence of alcohol. Older drivers were given signs and road designs that could be interpreted as confusing.,

During the simulator study, only drivers given the minimum level of countermeasures made a wrong way entrance. The researchers observed that multiple countermeasures provide more cues for drivers to make the right decision in choosing an entrance ramp.

While simulator study confirmed the concept that a “more is better” approach to countermeasures was most effective, the FSU simulator study was limited to traditional signage and pavement markings. The latest generation of countermeasures involve dynamic detection of a wrong way entrance that trigger flashing beacons or light up wrong way signs. To evaluate their effectiveness, FDOT initiated another project—Comparing Countermeasures for Mitigating Wrong-way Entries onto Limited Access Facilities—led by Dr. Pei-Sung Lin at the University of South Florida.

Based a series of tests, including driving simulators and focus groups conducted in the Tampa area, Dr. Lin and his colleagues developed recommendations for the use of dynamic countermeasures. For example, they found the red rectangular rapid-flashing beacon (RRFB) to be most effective for mitigating wrong way driving at freeway off-ramps, followed by wigwag flashing beacons. Delineators along off-ramps were least effective and not recommended for freeway off-ramps.

Two other research projects are currently underway that are continuing to evaluate more sophisticated wrong way detection countermeasure systems. The results are expected in early 2018.

Congratulations to the FDOT Traffic Engineering and Operations Office and Raj Ponnaluri! Their hard work and dedication, combined with the academic expertise and experience at Florida universities, are working to make Florida’s roadways safer.

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