Technology and Safety on Urban Roadways: The Role of ITS for WSDOT

This report examines the relationship between Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and safety from an urban perspective.

Existing urban ITS are either system-level or site-level applications. System-level ITS, such as freeway management systems or traffic signal networks, address safety concerns only indirectly. These systems are designed to improve traffic flows and thus indirectly reduce collisions caused by congestion. Other system-level ITS used to increase the efficiency of transit, commercial vehicle operations, and emergency service operations also benefit safety indirectly. Site-level ITS applications, such as railroad/highway grade crossing warnings or work zone systems, are installed to directly address safety concerns. However, these applications are limited to specific locations identified as hazardous.

Most urban crashes in Washington involve multiple vehicle collisions caused by driver error at locations that have not been identified as hazardous. Future ITS known as collision avoidance systems (CAS) hold considerable promise for urban roadway safety because these in-vehicle devices will inform drivers of judgment errors and can do so at many locations along an urban roadway system.
A handful of ITS applications are so well tested that they can be aggressively pursued by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) as tools to reduce urban crashes. Most of these applications include the various systems, such as ramp meters and incident detection, used for freeway management. Other ITS safety applications, while promising, still need to be fully documented and are best used as demonstration applications. Most of these applications involve sensor technology used to warn drivers about road and roadside hazards at specific sites. The greatest safety benefit from ITS may come from in-vehicle collision warning systems. These applications should evolve from a number of large federal research projects and private industry initiatives that are under way. Given their potential impact on safety, WSDOT should monitor applications of these projects.
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, February 1, 2000
Publication Number: 
WA-RD 460.2
Last modified: 
10/12/2016 - 15:42
Edward D. McCormack, Bill Legg.
Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC)
Number of Pages: 
Collision avoidance systems, Freeway management systems, Highway safety, Intelligent transportation systems, Traffic control, Traffic safety, Urban highways, Warning systems.