Mizzou Engineering lighting the way to safer driving


Faculty members Henry Brown, Carlos Sun and Praveen Edara and doctoral students Sandy Zhang and Zhu Qing combined field and simulator studies on the effectiveness of four light-color configurations — amber/white, green only, green/amber and green/white — in catching driver attention and preventing collisions. Photo courtesy of Henry Brown.

Sometimes, it’s what you don’t find that turns out to be important.

A team of MU Civil and Environmental Engineering researchers discovered as much when they studied response to different types of lights on what are called truck mounted attenuators (TMAs) in mobile work zones — for example, road striping zones. TMAs are attached to a construction vehicle and typically contain lights alerting drivers to upcoming work zones and additional items such as lane closures, upcoming lane mergers, etc.

In “Simulator and Field Study of Green Lights on Truck-Mounted Attenuators in Missouri during Mobile Operations,” published recently in Transportation Research Record, faculty members Henry Brown, Carlos Sun and Praveen Edara and doctoral students Sandy Zhang and Zhu Qing combined field and simulator studies on the effectiveness of four light-color configurations — amber/white, green only, green/amber and green/white — in catching driver attention and preventing collisions.

“There are a lot of issues with these vehicles getting hit, especially in regards to driver inattention,” Brown said.

What they discovered was that there were tradeoffs between the configurations, and that one wasn’t head and shoulders better than the rest. Departments of transportation effectively must choose which one best suits their needs should they decide to make a change.

“For example, the amber and white is better at getting vehicles to merge sooner and recognize work zones faster, but the green scored better for helping drivers better recognize the arrow board,” Brown explained.

The Missouri Department of Transportation, which funded the study, decided that an overhaul of their current TMA systems and the legislative and financial resources it would take would not be an overall improvement.

As always, the biggest key is for drivers to remain vigilant and pay attention at all times, particularly in work zones. Meanwhile, MU’s top traffic researchers will keep looking at ways to best grab their attention when it wanes.

“Anything that can be done to help get drivers’ attention and educate people on texting and driving are areas that can help improve safety in the future,” Brown said.



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