Work zones are evolving. They're becoming more complex and more dangerous... but they're also becoming more automated and more connected. Here are 4 key technology trends that are leading the way towards safer work zones now and in the future.
TMA trucks are designed to protect everyone in the work zone, which includes the work crew and the driver of the impacting vehicle but they leave the TMA truck driver vulnerable to injury when there's an impact event.
With the development of autonomous technology, a TMA truck can now operate driverless as it follows a leader vehicle in a moving work zone operation like line striping or mowing.
It also helps to improve safety for the work crew by eliminating human error in maintaining a safe roll-ahead distance behind the manned leader vehicle and eliminating the human instinct for self-preservation in which the TMA truck driver would be inclined to swerve to avoid an impending collision.
Over the past few years, several universities have been testing this new technology at their transportation centers in coordination with state DOTs and some of these ATMAs are already in use today.
While the equipment in a work zone is a vital element to overall safety, the actions of the traveling motorists play an equal part into the overall safety. One of the biggest recent technology trends introduces a fully-connected work zone, which can better prepare drivers for changing driving conditions.
With a simple tech add-on to a standard arrow board, the board becomes capable of transmitting the location of the work zone to popular navigation apps including Waze and Apple Maps to provide drivers with live updates of an active work zone. Giving more advanced warning to drivers gives them more time to potentially change their route to avoid the work zone or be more cautious as they approach the work zone. Ultimately, the more drivers are aware of a work zone and prepared before approaching it, the safer the work crew can be.
In recent years, the possibility of a work zone accident has become so common place that it's no longer a matter of if but a matter of when your TMA truck will be hit in a work zone. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there were 94,000 crashes in work zones in the United States in 2017 (National Estimates of Total and Injury Work Zone Crashes.
DVR systems have been around for many years, including for use in TMA trucks and work zones. While they cannot prevent an accident, they have proven to be useful in reducing a company's liability when there is an accident.
The newest DVRs can record in 1080p resolution which provides a clear view on playback, a secured black box with simultaneous work zone area and in-cab recording, and radar board integration to capture and overlay the oncoming vehicle's speed on the DVR footage.
One of the biggest trends in work zone safety actually starts before the worker even enters the work zone, virtual training.
In highway construction and maintenance, untrained or under-trained workers can result in fatal mistakes in the work zone. A properly trained employee is critical in maintaining a safe work zone environment. VR training is setting the foundation for ensuring workers are properly trained before they ever set foot in a live work zone.
In all quantifiable statistics including learning pace and retention rate, VR-based training programs have been shown to surpass traditional methods including videos, online training courses and printed manuals. Some employers are also using VR programs to test potential hires or re-test existing hires to determine if additional training is needed.