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If Only the Road Could Talk

Most experienced drivers have learned to identify when road conditions are challenging. Bad weather and dangerous driving conditions are not rare in Illinois. But even the best drivers have difficulty identifying when rain is severe enough to cause a car to hydroplane or when falling temperatures, moisture and exhaust fumes have combined to form deadly black ice. Scientists are not researching a new method to help reduce the number of car accidents caused by bad weather. They are testing a method that would allow the road itself to inform you.

A new sensor system that can be embedded directly into the pavement will give drivers an easy way to determine if the road conditions are safe. A stoplight-style system of red, yellow or green can inform drivers of when ice has accumulated or when the friction of the road is very low. In combination with weather stations located along the road, the sensors could provide vital, life-saving information to drivers who may not have recognized their peril

The first snowy or icy day of the year is generally accompanied by scores of vehicles along the side of the road. While this system may not be enough to convince drivers to take proper precautions, it will give them more information than they currently have. Inexperienced drivers will benefit from a clear warning signal about the dangers they are facing. It might even be enough to convince some drivers to stay home until the weather has improved.

With roughly 1.5 million accidents attributed to bad weather every year, including more than 7,000 fatal car and truck accidents, anything that can be done to help drivers understand when weather conditions demand more careful driving would be a welcome addition.

Source: Ivanhoe Broadcast News, "Safe or Slippery - Detecting Dangerous Roads," by Kevin Petty, December 2011

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