For anyone who’s ever driven a car during rush hour, traffic is one of those odd and awful mysteries. Sometimes, when highway traffic slows to a standstill, there’s a good reason for it, like an accident or just plain old overcrowding. The New York Times reports that many traffic situations happen for reasons that are never visible for drivers. For example, a driver who gets too close to the vehicle in front and suddenly slows, or one who lets another car change lanes, can trigger a ripple effect of braking that could clog an entire highway.
Here’s the real question: Do traffic jams have to exist, or are there ways to obviate the infuriating phenomenon? Are we simply stuck with too many cars on the road, or are there ways to manage traffic that could make a difference in the workday commute? Manufacturers are experimenting with devices and products that are designed to make a difference out on the roads, and they all hope that their products could be the one that makes an enduring change.
For example, in late 2015, a La Vista manufacturing firm, Electronic Design and Manufacturing, partnered with Lenexa company Rhythm Engineering. According to the Omaha World-Herald’s report, the companies designed and manufactured adaptive signal control systems, which “use a combination of cameras; machines that use algorithms to identify trends; and interconnected devices from nearby intersections to make traffic flow more smoothly.” Rather than old signal systems, which the engineers say function on timers with programming based on human observations, the new technology allows more fluid traffic based on real-time events.
Over 200 cities have installed the Rhythm Engineering systems so far, including Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Principal traffic engineer Heath Hoftiezer tells Cole Epley that “the technology has helped to reduce stops on stalled intersections by 24%. Travel time has fallen by 8%, according to internal driving trials, [resulting in] cost savings of about $2,300 per day in terms of lower fuel consumption and less time on the road.”
Other manufacturers and engineers believe the solution lies inside the vehicle, rather than on the streets. Dirk Helbing, a physicist at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany, says that driver-assistance systems allow drivers to react to changes in traffic more quickly, meaning that the frequency of traffic jams would diminish if even 10-20% of cars had more advanced systems in them. The push to improve traffic problems is another reason that many automobile manufacturers are invested in the famous “autonomous car,” a vehicle that not only has a driver-assistance system, but doesn’t even need a driver.
In Virginia, where drivers sat in 15.7 million hours of delay on interstates in 2014 (costing $376 million in lost productivity), VDOT officials are working with public transportation, technology, and high-occupancy toll lanes to reduce their traffic problems. Just last month, they asked for $900,000 to install high-tech detection systems on westbound I-64 to warn drivers with trucks that are too tall, a common cause of traffic delays. Another $14.5 million dollar project would add cameras, sensors, and variable speed limit signs to manage traffic.
No matter which state you’re in, it’s apparent that transportation departments are actively working to reduce traffic, and manufacturers who can create products that do so will be in high demand. We look forward to seeing what engineers and manufacturers can come up with in the future. If you have an idea, now’s the time to put it into action!