Flashing lights and neon vests

April 2, 2018
New research, technology has the work-zone safety industry moving forward

The No. 1 state in the nation in terms of the number of fatalities and injuries in highway construction work zones is Texas. According to the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), the high numbers are because of several reasons, including:

  • A longer construction season;
  • An increase in construction activity; and
  • Driver inattention and carelessness within construction sites.

The need for drivers to recognize and react to upcoming work zones is an important safety issue in the state of Texas. Research sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and conducted by TTI has created helpful techniques to improve safety for those who earn a paycheck inside those work zones. Again, the main area of concentration is increasing the visibility of work zones for motorists.

Work-zone vision

A new way of alerting drivers to upcoming work zones is already proving its worth in gold. The method was developed as part of a TTI research project that was sponsored and implemented by TxDOT. The system uses a series of synchronized flashing lights attached to the drums that form a lane closure taper. The lights illuminate in a sequence from the beginning to the end of the taper, and the method has produced successful results on a series of multilane construction sites in the Houston area.

Research at TTI’s Riverside Campus in College Station and roadway tests in Houston have shown that drivers respond more positively to the synchronized flashing light system than to the usual traffic control setup serving as work zones on Texas highways.

Greg Brinkmeyer, project director and TxDOT’s engineer for policy and standards, said the system alerts drivers as they approach a work zone and encourages them to slow down and move out of the affected lanes sooner.

“When the synchronized flashing warning light system was activated there was a one-fourth reduction in the number of passenger vehicles 1,000 ft before the lane closure taper,” said TTI researcher Melisa Finley. “However, we saw the largest impact on commercial vehicles. The new light system resulted in a two-thirds reduction in the number of large trucks in the closed lane 1,000 ft before the lane closure taper.”

Portable changeable message signs (PCMSs) also are effective tools marking off work zones. More and more, TxDOT is using light-emitting-diode (LED) lights in arrow panels and PCMSs to replace the aging incandescent bulbs. Again, driver attention was a concern due to the lack of an illumination standard for both LED lights and PCMSs.

In a TxDOT-sponsored study, TTI researchers created a scientific, measurable and objective method to determine if the board and signs were visible by motorists. The TTI study set a standard for minimum illumination, or brightness, for daytime and nighttime driving. Vehicle speeds, roadway alignments and night and day situations were all taken into consideration. TxDOT has used the standard to develop a test (TEX 880) that measures the visibility of arrow boards.

Glow in the dark

New vest technology is fast becoming available for police officers. At the center of it all is a company in West Chicago, Ill., called Insight Technologies Inc. Using electrolumination technology, a bendable neon wire, powered by two AA batteries, lines the front and rear panel of the vest. The neon streak allows the worker to be illuminated while working in the dark. The vest itself is a light, breathable material that Insight Technologies says meets and exceeds safety standards set by the American National Standard Institute/International Safety Equipment Association and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“I’ve seen the dangers that are out there,” product inventor Mike Coscino told the Arlington Heights, Ill., Daily Herald Coscino is a retired police sergeant who spent years directing traffic. “It just seemed like the right product to bring into the market.”

If the neon vest takes off in the law enforcement field, it may not be long before workers try them on in the highway and bridge building industry.

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