Changing Roadways Spur Infrastructure Innovation

July 8, 2019

Modern roadways pave the way for innovations that improve infrastructure and safety

Roadways are undergoing a significant change, as the number of motorists grow and Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs) enter the fleet. Roadway infrastructure will need to change as well, to meet new capacity and safety demands.

Recent research shows that investments into highway safety have benefits that far exceed costs. According to a study published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, an investment of $146 billion in cost-effective roadway safety infrastructure improvements has the potential to save about 63,700 lives and prevent 353,560 serious injuries over a 20-year time period. Roadway safety infrastructure improvements that contribute to this figure include median barriers, signalized pedestrian crossings, and shoulder and centerline rumble strips.

“We’re moving in as many different directions as we can to make sure that everyone is included in updating our infrastructure system,” said Brian Watson, director of new programs for the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA).

Leading the Conversation

ATSSA is helping to shape the conversation around roadway safety for CAVs. In addition to participating in national level meetings with the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) and providing input on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), ATSSA is also bringing together roadway infrastructure professionals and automotive industry representatives to discuss ways to make roadways safer for automated vehicle technologies as well as human-led vehicles.

“The industry that builds, designs and maintains highways doesn’t often communicate with the industry that designs and builds vehicles,” said Paul Carlson chief technology officer at Road Infrastructure, Inc. and ATSSA member. “That’s probably been OK in the past but as automated vehicle technologies interact more and more with the highway infrastructure, there is a growing need for these industries to work together to provide a robust transportation solution where safety and mobility are improved in an equitable manner.”

One research area that has sparked collaboration between the two industries was an ATSSA study comparing the visibility of a 4-inch wide pavement marking stripe to a 6-inch wide stripe. The wider stripe is already being used by many agencies across the country as a way to prepare their highways for automated vehicle technologies. National uniformity is one of the key areas where the highway industry can improve to support automated vehicle technology deployment as well as improve safety for human-led vehicles. ATSSA is working with other organizations such as the NCUTCD to identify and develop additional recommendations for national traffic control device uniformity.

Showcasing and Fostering Innovation

To highlight new technologies and encourage innovative thought, ATSSA hosts several programs, including the New Products Rollout (NPRO) and the Traffic Control Device (TCD) Student Challenge.

The NPRO, which occurs every year at ATSSA’s Annual Convention & Traffic Expo, gives qualifying members and nonmembers a chance to showcase innovations in roadway safety. The TCD Student Challenge, which ATSSA hosts in partnership with the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Standing Committee on Traffic Control Devices (AHB50), solicits innovative roadway safety solutions from high school and university students around real-life problem areas.

“Last year’s theme was improving pedestrian and cyclist safety at signalized intersections. We brought the top 15 to TRB’s Annual Meeting and had a Shark Tank-style presentation for each. The final three teams go to ATSSA’s convention to present their ideas to industry professionals,” Watson said. “It’s a great way to usher in that next generation of infrastructure professionals.”

National Training for Roadway Standardization

In-depth courses for engineers and practitioners cover topics like nighttime construction and maintenance of short duration. ATSSA’s temporary traffic control courses for technicians, supervisors, and flaggers cover everything from safety basics to innovative roadway products and functionality.

"We have a course on the different strategies that are used within a work zone and a course on how to design for a temporary traffic control, and an entire course that focuses on Intelligent Transportation Systems [ITS] and the various innovations to help control traffic and make motorist aware of what’s going on,” said Eric Perry, senior technical advisor for ATSSA.

The End Goal: Improving Traffic Safety

As the mixed-fleet of human and machine drivers grows, ATSSA continues to advocate for investment into roadway safety infrastructure.

“We’re trying to increase the overall safety numbers on our roadways and reduce the overall fatalities to zero,” Perry said. “We’re currently hovering around 40,000 fatalities each year, and we’ve got a large mountain to climb to get it down to zero.”

For more information about ATSSA’s commitment to innovation in roadway safety infrastructure, visit

About The Author: ATSSA is an international association representing the road, traffic and highway safety industry.

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