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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 72 · No. 2 > Gearing Up for SafeTrip-21

Sept/Oct 2008
Vol. 72 · No. 2

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-08-006

Gearing Up for SafeTrip-21

by Ellen Bell, Michael Dinning, Michael Kay, Gary Ritter, John C. Smith, and Sian Steward

RITA is promoting technology solutions for improving transportation safety and reducing congestion.

SafeTrip-21 seeks to spur deployment of the latest and best technologies to help reduce congestion, such as the backed up cars and trucks shown here. Photo: John J. Sullivan IV for FHWA.
SafeTrip-21 seeks to spur deployment of the latest and best technologies to help reduce congestion, such as the backed up cars and trucks shown here.

According to the Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute, urban congestion in the United States in 2007 resulted in 4.2 billion hours of travel delay, 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel, and a net cost of $78 billion. In addition, highway vehicle travel today accounts for 81 percent of total U.S. transportation energy consumption. These costs and delays have increased steadily in recent decades and are likely to worsen over time.

In 2006 nearly six million crashes occurred on U.S. roadways, injuring 2.6 million people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That year, the total equates to a crash happening every 5 seconds. Motor vehicle crashes represent more than 90 percent of transportation-related deaths and are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 2 and 34. In its "Fiscal Year 2009 Budget In Brief," the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) estimated the economic cost of these crashes at more than $230 billion annually.

To find and deploy solutions to reduce traffic congestion and motor vehicle crashes, deaths, and injuries, USDOT's Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) has launched a bold, new intelligent transportation systems (ITS) initiative that will catapult the United States to the forefront of ITS applications. Dubbed SafeTrip‑21, for Safe and Efficient Travel through Innovation and Partnerships for the 21st Century, the program will leverage the Internet and an array of advanced communication, information, and navigation technologies. Specifically, SafeTrip‑21 seeks to demonstrate the near-term safety and mobility benefits of improved situational awareness; real-time traffic, parking, and transit information; data collected by vehicle probes; and the ease of electronic payment.

Through SafeTrip‑21, USDOT will build upon its Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) research and the success of ITS assets already in place, such as variable message signs and traffic and transit monitoring. SafeTrip‑21 embodies not only the largest multimodal ITS test in the world but also one of the largest tests of traffic probe data ever undertaken.

What Is SafeTrip‑21?

SafeTrip‑21 is a near-term component of the USDOT/RITA VII program, which explores the application of ITS technologies that transfer information on traffic and travel options to and from vehicles to reduce congestion and increase safety, mobility, efficiency, and convenience. RITA is partnering with transportation agencies, ITS technology suppliers, and the university research community to conduct field operational tests of VII concepts to obtain user feedback that will help USDOT better focus on longer term VII research and development (R&D). This effort holds significant implications in terms of generating practical solutions for traffic management organizations seeking cost-effective innovations to mitigate traffic risks while maximizing operational efficiencies.

In addition to the traditional VII focus on automobile travel, SafeTrip‑21 seeks to assess ITS technologies that can make public transit a more convenient option. SafeTrip‑21 will assess both the viability and performance of advanced traveler information technologies. And, given the growing interest in road-pricing policies to alleviate congestion, another goal is to facilitate convenient electronic payment options. These measures increasingly will benefit individual travelers, including commuters and businesses, as well as boost the performance of the national transportation system.

The Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) Program

USDOT's VII program is a collaborative R&D partnership with State and local departments of transportation, automobile manufacturers, and others. A key initiative within USDOT's ITS program, VII research focuses on enabling wireless communication among motor vehicles and between motor vehicles and roadway infrastructure. By facilitating secure real-time communication with motor vehicles, these new services will enhance transportation safety, mobility, and commerce.

For comprehensive, up-to-date information on the VII initiative, go to www.vehicle-infrastructure.org and click on Program Information.

A key component of SafeTrip‑21 is providing motorists and other travelers with the information they need to arrive at their destinations safely and with minimal delay. This includes information — about traffic congestion ahead, roadwork zones, weather conditions due to precipitation and fog, sharp curves in the road, and merging traffic — that will make travel safer and improve mobility.

SafeTrip‑21 seeks to accelerate implementation of ITS technologies that contribute toward transportation goals expressed in Transportation Vision for 2030 (www.rita.dot.gov/publications/transportation_vision_2030/pdf/entire.pdf), USDOT's long-term vision for the Nation's transportation system. The program therefore seeks to expose the public, decisionmakers, and stakeholders to the benefits of VII concepts in real-world travel settings.

By bringing innovative technologies into an operational setting, SafeTrip‑21 will enable travelers to not only experience the initial benefits of VII today but also glimpse what is in store for the future. In addition, USDOT can use the results of these near-term activities to modify systems that the Department will introduce over the long term.

Putting the Wheels In Motion

SafeTrip‑21 took root when RITA Administrator Paul R. Brubaker turned to the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, MA, part of RITA, to explore ITS best practices and methods to accelerate adoption of VII concepts in the United States. The program officially began in late 2007 with an extensive national and international technology scanning effort aimed at gathering information on ITS deployment efforts to date. The team interviewed ITS practitioners and university researchers and established a baseline of all the available technologies.

Curve Over-Speed Warning

Illustration. This illustration shows a curve speed warning system on a mountain road, which is activated when a vehicle enters the communication range of a roadside beacon. The graphic consists of a two-lane road beginning on the left and then curving down to the right toward a cliff, then curving sharply left and up, hooking sharp right and down to the right around two conical mountains, and then ending at the bottom of the illustration. On the far left, at the beginning of the road, is a car in the right lane. Ahead and just off the right side of the road is a blue dot with a green, striated cone emanating out and touching the car-a radar beacon detecting the car before the first curve in the road near the cliffs. Another blue beacon and green radar cone are just off the road at the foot of the mountains, before the curve around the mountains. This beacon also alerts the driver about an icy area on the roadway, shown as a bluish circle on the roadway in the illustration. A third radar beacon is shown on the other side of the mountains, aimed at cars approaching the curve from the opposite direction.
Excessive vehicle speed at roadway curves can lead to lane departure, collision, loss of vehicle control, or road departure, any of which can result in a crash. A curve speed warning system could help drivers negotiate curves at safe speeds. Source: NHTSA.

The impetus for SafeTrip‑21 stems in part from successful ITS technology deployments in other countries. Information gathered from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan indicates that these systems have the potential to improve safety in the vicinity of 70 percent and mobility by up to 20 percent. Although these impressive safety improvements might not be replicable in the United States where roadway geometrics are more forgiving, SafeTrip‑21 intends to assess opportunities for improved safety. Furthermore, these systems can reduce fuel consumption and air emissions by 10 to 20 percent.

The scanning efforts included a fact-finding visit to Japan, which is a leading nation in ITS deployment, with extensive ITS infrastructure in place throughout its national roadway network. The Smartway 2007 exposition on the Metropolitan Expressway in Tokyo showcased many ITS technologies that facilitate the exchange of a wide range of information among drivers, their cars, and pedestrians, thus creating a platform for ITS deployment. These technologies include the integration of infrared, microwave, and FM radio transmission technologies. Japan already has a proven Vehicle Information and Communication System across the country that provides drivers with information on road conditions and alternative routes to avoid congestion.

In December 2007, the Volpe Center solicited information from transportation technology companies and researchers worldwide regarding concepts for applicable and viable approaches to mitigating congestion and improving safety through the application of new and existing technologies. The number and quality of the responses indicated significant interest among the broader transportation community in rapidly advancing ITS technologies in the United States and aggressively pursuing world-class field operational tests.

This in-vehicle alert system from Japan notifies the driver of an upcoming intersection.
This in-vehicle alert system from Japan notifies the driver of an upcoming intersection.

The Technologies

Many opportunities exist to introduce technologies that can produce immediate benefits without extensive public investment in VII infrastructure. These include adding portable navigational devices and smart phones with navigation capabilities to the range of tools that travelers use. Although the navigational tools of today's GPS devices are powerful, current innovations in the technology are bringing a new generation of capabilities that provide dynamic, real-time information to travelers instantaneously and cost effectively. SafeTrip‑21 provides an opportunity to assess the ability of these increasingly popular mobile devices to deliver safety and mobility information to travelers safely and effectively. The initiative might point to the need for additional research, particularly with respect to the human interface and options for incorporating data from vehicle-based systems.

Importantly, GPS navigation devices increasingly are incorporating two-way wireless communications capabilities so information on current travel conditions can be shared with transportation facility operators and travelers. These advances enable novel safety functionalities such as proactively and instantaneously providing travelers with timely alerts about slow or stopped traffic ahead, icy bridges, wet curves, and temporary speed reductions. Safety alerts might also warn drivers about imminent stop sign violations, potential pedestrian conflicts, road hazards, and construction work zones. (Researchers at the Federal Highway Administration's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center are using a "smart intersection" to study cooperative intersection collision avoidance systems and infrastructure-vehicle communications, in addition to other innovations and technologies.)

Near-term mobility applications include better and timelier information on traffic, travel and weather conditions, transit connections and schedules, and parking. Travelers will be able to obtain travel advisories including congestion information and corresponding options, such as alternative routes, modes, destinations, and time of travel to avoid being stuck in traffic. As more accurate, real-time information becomes widely available, navigation devices will help travelers make informed travel choices to save time, conserve fuel, minimize their environmental footprints, and possibly even reduce risk of injury.

Most ITS technologies and applications involve sharing data, so protecting the privacy of travelers is of utmost importance. SafeTrip‑21 will use established principles for maintaining privacy to ensure anonymity.

Field Testing: San Francisco Bay Area

To transition research findings to real-world operational environments more rapidly, the Volpe Center solicited proposals for field test sites and ITS applications. The field testing component of SafeTrip‑21 will help identify and promote integrated information, navigation, and communications technologies to advance national transportation goals. Applicants included a cross section of the transportation community, including State DOTs, academia, ITS technology providers, and automakers.

These equipment cabinets are part of FHWA's Intelligent Intersection Traffic Control Laboratory, which conducts research on traffic engineering, pedestrian safety, collision avoidance, and other topics related to the SafeTrip21 effort. The lab is equipped with advanced ITS technologies including a comprehensive traffic signal control system, a dedicated short-range communication system, a vehicle and pedestrian detection system, and a fiber-optic communication network.
These equipment cabinets are part of FHWA's Intelligent Intersection Traffic Control Laboratory, which conducts research on traffic engineering, pedestrian safety, collision avoidance, and other topics related to the SafeTrip21 effort. The lab is equipped with advanced ITS technologies including a comprehensive traffic signal control system, a dedicated short-range communication system, a vehicle and pedestrian detection system, and a fiber-optic communication network.

The Volpe Center recently entered into a cooperative agreement with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to establish the inaugural SafeTrip‑21 field test site in the San Francisco Bay area. Specifically, the site encompasses I-880 from Oakland to San Jose on the east bay and from San Jose to just south of the San Francisco International Airport, along U.S. 101 and California State Route (SR) 82. The site includes the SR-84 Dumbarton Bridge toll crossing, which links I-880 and U.S. 101.

Caltrans's partners include the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the University of California-Berkeley's California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways, the California Center for Innovative Transportation, Nokia, Inc., NAVTEQ, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and Nissan. The cost of the $12.4 million field test is funded by the private and public sector partners, including the USDOT contribution, equally.

Based on 2005 data, the San Francisco Bay area is among the five most congested metropolitan regions in the United States and has a complex transportation network. Its highly congested I-880 freeway alone sustains 10 to 15 incidents per day, and the region is home to three major airports, a seaport, and extensive heavy rail, commuter rail, and bus transit systems. The bay area is a leader in multiagency, integrated electronic transit fare payment technologies. The region has electronic tolling on its major bridges and has high-occupancy tolling (HOT) authority to convert high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to HOT lanes at four locations.

The SafeTrip‑21 field test will feature a bay area application that involves using GPS-equipped mobile devices to enable drivers to share and receive vital roadway and safety information. It will provide real-time traffic data for highways and arterials that travelers can access through a variety of means, including the Internet, cell phones, and other devices in their vehicles.

This highway sign in Tokyo not only displays real-time traveling speeds on roadways ahead but also highlights areas of congestion in color. This type of information can help motorists decide whether to seek alternative routes. (Clearly, any U.S. signage featuring real-time information will need to comply with the requirements of the  Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.)
This highway sign in Tokyo not only displays real-time traveling speeds on roadways ahead but also highlights areas of congestion in color. This type of information can help motorists decide whether to seek alternative routes. (Clearly, any U.S. signage featuring real-time information will need to comply with the requirements of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.)

Another ITS technology will provide an interface between mobile devices and the roadside infrastructure to make possible a host of VII safety and mobility functions. Through wireless distribution of digital data and routing information, drivers with mobile devices in specially equipped vehicles can be alerted when approaching slow-moving or halted traffic, red lights, grade crossings, stop signs, and other "connected" vehicles. Transit riders will be able to plan trips based on current transit operating conditions (rather than published schedules). Future test elements will incorporate the ability to pay for fares and even locate, reserve, and pay for parking at a transit station — all electronically. Travelers in general will be able to choose a mode, route, and time of travel based on the shortest distance, quickest travel time, most predictable arrival time, or lowest environmental footprint. SafeTrip‑21 seeks to evaluate the effects of providing individualized traveler information, choices, and convenience.

SafeTrip‑21 at the ITS World Congress and Beyond

USDOT will showcase the selected technology applications at the 15th World Congress on ITS in New York City in November 2008, where ITS leaders, policymakers, and other industry professionals from more than 70 countries will gather. Attendees will have the opportunity to see SafeTrip‑21 technologies in an interactive setting that demonstrates operational capabilities.

The formal SafeTrip‑21 field tests and evaluations will take place from December 2008 to December 2009. The testing will focus on assessing and measuring the abilities of these technologies to yield near-term safety and efficiency benefits, as well as to contribute to solving long-term transportation problems. The field tests will provide an opportunity to see which applications work and which require further R&D.

SafeTrip-21 seeks to harness new wireless technologies, such as this dashboard-mounted GPS device, to transfer vital transportation information directly to travelers in real-time. Eventually, any handheld device with wireless capabilities will be able to synch in to this growing network of integrated communications.
SafeTrip-21 seeks to harness new wireless technologies, such as this dashboard-mounted GPS device, to transfer vital transportation information directly to travelers in real-time. Eventually, any handheld device with wireless capabilities will be able to synch in to this growing network of integrated communications.

The tests also will provide an opportunity to inform transportation decisionmakers about how the technologies work in the field and what safety and mobility benefits DOTs might derive by providing the traveling public with improved traffic and transit information.

Caltrans District 4, in the San Francisco Bay area, is integrating transit information onto variable message signs to entice drivers to switch modes.
These signs can relay information on parking availability at transit stations
Caltrans District 4, in the San Francisco Bay area, is integrating transit information onto variable message signs (Top) to entice drivers to switch modes. In addition to the departure time of the next train, these signs can relay information on parking availability at transit stations (Bottom).

Viable Business Models

USDOT predicated the initial VII vision on deployment of a national infrastructure of an estimated 252,000 to 400,000 roadside transponders to communicate information to and from motor vehicles. This approach requires significant investment by the public sector or a public-private partnership in terms of deploying, operating, and maintaining roadside units. SafeTrip‑21, however, is assessing near-term possibilities that do not require extensive infrastructure, as well as business models that can support widespread deployment of VII infrastructure to enable collision avoidance and other safety-critical concepts that require roadside units.

The Volpe Center issued a request for information in spring 2008 to gain input from industry and State and local governments about potential partnerships. Based on responses and other analyses, the SafeTrip‑21 team identified and will test alternative business models that allow for public-private partnerships for cost sharing and market development.

Tangible Benefits

A series of hypothetical scenarios can illustrate how the public might benefit from SafeTrip‑21.

Scenario 1: A businesswoman is driving to a business meeting in a major metropolitan area 322 kilometers (200 miles) from home. She drives onto a freeway, but soon the vehicle's traveler information system warns of a severe crash 8 kilometers (5 miles) ahead. The traveler information system in her vehicle shows two alternative routes to reach her destination but estimates that either one will add an hour to her drive.

View for Alternative Text
In trucks equipped with ITS, real-time data on the driver and vehicle can be transmitted to enforcement agencies for a "virtual" inspection, increasing compliance, saving time and manpower, and improving safety and mobility. Source: FMCSA.

The woman's business meeting is in 4 hours, and she is concerned about arriving in time. The traveler information system then provides information about air and rail options. The woman chooses the train, which leaves in 45 minutes and will arrive in time for the meeting. Her vehicle's onboard system informs her that a parking spot is available at the train station, and she can make a reservation from her car. Her electronic toll tag, regional transportation smart card, and bank-issued contactless credit card all are accepted for payment at the station's parking garage, and each allows her the flexibility to touch and go without delay.

When the woman reaches her destination city, her smart card enables her to take the subway and bus right to the door of her appointment. She makes the meeting and closes a business deal. As a result of taking transit during her trip, she receives a day's worth of "green credits" payable to her integrated mobility account (smart card). Such seamless, multimodal travel is a key goal of SafeTrip‑21.

Scenario 2: A long-haul truck driver is carrying hazardous material. His job has become easier in recent years with the introduction of onboard safety systems and communication links that warn of potential hazards. The driver remains vigilant but has less stress knowing he will be alerted to unusual highway conditions (weather and traffic alerts, severe curves in the road, and construction ahead). His truck already is outfitted with onboard safety systems that signal when he strays from a lane, detect truck stability or impending rollover, and sense whether he is too close to a vehicle ahead of him.

More widespread use of communications technology can enable timely and strategic deployment of snowplows such as this one and other road maintenance equipment.
More widespread use of communications technology can enable timely and strategic deployment of snowplows such as this one and other road maintenance equipment.

Due to sensors transmitting up-to-the-minute information (on the driver and the truck) that deemed him "safe," the driver was permitted to bypass an inspection station during rush hour, and he is now ahead of schedule. This virtual, wireless inspection also communicates the truck's location and status to the fleet manager, who is not only satisfying Federal regulations and bolstering the driver's operating record but is planning the driver's next trip more efficiently. The driver also gets a bonus from his employer for minimum fuel usage due to economical braking and acceleration.

At the end of the driver's workday, he approaches a city. The truck's onboard system finds a place to park, reserves the spot, and gives the driver directions, including which routes are appropriate for the hazardous material he is carrying. The onboard technologies and their links to infrastructure systems improve the driver's workday, maximize his productivity, and help keep him and his fellow travelers safe.

Scenario 3: A road maintenance official is responsible for keeping certain roads safe in winter. He needs to know as soon as possible whether the roads are icy or if a crash has occurred. Newer technologies make it easier for the official to obtain and use the information he needs. Vehicles traveling on the throughways are equipped with sensors that provide location information, surface temperature, icing conditions, and road surface salinity in real time. Onboard systems send this information to the official, enabling him to send message alerts to other vehicles on the road, and he can activate countermeasures quickly, such as sanding and salting.

Many of the technologies and investment strategies of the SafeTrip‑21 program are in the early phases of evaluation. Currently, the program is appraising a multitude of leading technologies to determine the most cost-effective means of supplying next-generation safety and mobility information solutions. All of the technologies under consideration require minimal investments in infrastructure by State transportation agencies. SafeTrip‑21 uses current cellular technology and flexible transceiver device tools. The technologies involved are currently available, highly mobile, compact, and inexpensive.

SafeTrip‑21 supplies the tools and methods for State and local transportation agencies to collect and disseminate traffic and safety information in a multimodal environment. States will benefit with real-time information that will empower them to make better decisions to reduce congestion, pollution, gridlock, and transportation- related injuries and fatalities.

SafeTrip‑21 Future Milestones

As the SafeTrip‑21 program evolves, USDOT may include and evaluate other test sites to incorporate additional traffic influencers such as severe winter weather. Throughout 2009, as preliminary results from the field tests become available, the SafeTrip‑21 team will share interim findings with the transportation community and issue a summary briefing in early 2010.

Combining the Internet with the latest ITS technologies provides myriad opportunities for travelers to be directly linked to one another and to central information databases in ways never before seen. SafeTrip‑21 is poised to be the springboard for a new direction that is paved with features leading to a better-integrated, safer, and more reliable national transportation system.

The Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) Program

USDOT's VII program is a collaborative R&D partnership with State and local departments of transportation, automobile manufacturers, and others. A key initiative within USDOT's ITS program, VII research focuses on enabling wireless communication among motor vehicles and between motor vehicles and roadway infrastructure. By facilitating secure real-time communication with motor vehicles, these new services will enhance transportation safety, mobility, and commerce.

For comprehensive, up-to-date information on the VII initiative, go to www.vehicle-infrastructure.org and click on Program Information.


Ellen E. Bell serves as a senior advisor to the director and chief of staff of RITA's Volpe Center.

Michael Dinning is the Volpe Center's executive director of business development.

Michael Kay is a co-op student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working in the Volpe Center Surface Transportation Infrastructure and Operations Division.

Gary Ritter is the technical director of the SafeTrip‑21 initiative and the Volpe Center domain expert in Surface Transportation Infrastructure and Operations.

John C. Smith is a senior project manager in the Volpe Center's Integrated Transportation Business Enterprise division.

Sian Steward is a communications specialist with the Volpe Center, primarily supporting the organization's communications and outreach efforts.

This article was a collaborative effort by the Volpe Center's SafeTrip ‑ 21 team. For more information and to keep informed about this initiative, please visit the RITA Web site at www.rita.dot.gov or contact Gary Ritter at 617-494-2716 or gary.t.ritter@volpe.dot.gov.

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