OWATONNA, Minn. — Drivers on Interstate 35 in southern Minnesota might have noticed new “snowplow alert” messages on digital highway signs recently, warning of slow-moving maintenance vehicles ahead. It’s all part of a test of the technology that activates the signs that’s being conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
“Alerting motorists that they’re approaching a slow-moving snowplow can improve safety for our operators and motorists,” said Ron Heim, MnDOT’s maintenance supervisor in Owatonna. “MnDOT is focused on safety and we think this use of technology will help everyone on the road.”
The department has equipped 10 MnDOT snowplows that operate along I-35 between Iowa and Northfield with technology that activates the digital message signs as they pass. During snow events, signs notify drivers: “Snowplow ahead, use caution.” During non-snow conditions, the message alerts: “Maintenance vehicle ahead, use caution.” The message stays activated for several minutes after the MnDOT vehicles pass.
Snowplows can create “snow clouds” when clearing roads at slower speeds. Warning signs can also be used at other times of year for uses such as maintenance work when crews are repairing high-tension cable median guard or striping roads.
Data from the past few years shows that many crashes involving snowplows were rear-end collisions when motorists strike the back of the snowplow. MnDOT hopes using this technology and warning system could reduce and prevent these types of crashes in the future.
MnDOT snowplows and maintenance vehicles use existing automatic location technology and the signs are equipped to receive the signal that triggers the message when they travel near the sign.
This pilot project is part of MnDOT’s connected and automated vehicle research to understand how advancing technology can improve safety. Minnesota is preparing for connected and automated vehicles by observing emerging technology trends and testing those solutions to see how they solve Minnesota transportation challenges. MnDOT’s Connected and Automated Vehicle Office (CAV-X) is the state’s lead office for connected and automated vehicle technology engagement, policy, testing and partnerships.
“Our trucks are already providing data, so we’re able to build off of that and test this concept,” said Jed Falgren, MnDOT’s state director for transportation system management and operations. “We can improve safety and this an important test that should show us what can come next.”
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