Slow Your Roll

April 1, 2023
People-less strategies to make people safer drivers

Spring is here, and with it comes certain rituals: spring cleaning the house, planting the garden, and washing a winter’s worth of road salt off the car.

A new study published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Omega outlines a plan to eliminate one of these (and unfortunately it isn’t spring cleaning).

Researchers in China have developed an asphalt additive with slow-release road salt built in that could negate the need for salt spreading.

The process works by adding plastic microcapsules of salt mixed with blast-furnace slag to the asphalt. Normal use of the road causes the microcapsules’ polymer coating to weaken over time, releasing the salt into the asphalt.

As a result, in light snow weather roads could actively keep themselves free of snow and ice. In a heavy storm, the salt can create a water layer between the ice and the road, making it easier to break the ice up, even by regular traffic.

The sodium acetate salt used in the asphalt is also much kinder to both vehicles and the environment than traditional sodium chloride road salt, which enjoys eating through the exposed metal on your automobile just as much as ice.

In addition to reducing vehicle corrosion, a self-salting road would also require less plowing, which reduces maintenance costs and pavement wear-and-tear.

Of course, the asphalt will eventually lose its anti-icing abilities once all the salt has been released, but researchers believe the additive would stay active in 500mm-thick pavement around seven or eight years.

Now if they could just develop a self-cleaning garage...

Roadside attraction

When it comes to art, some driver distraction can be a good thing.

Over the winter, researchers in Germany placed brightly colored sculptures along the side of the road near two small German communities to observe their effect on drivers.

As expected, the works of art attracted drivers’ attention, but not in a negative way.

Based on data from resident surveys, traffic measurements and recording drivers’ eye movements, the sculptures seemed to make drivers more aware of their environment, including speed limits.

“It had an effect, but art alone doesn’t change everything,” cautioned Rainer Höger, a professor of industrial psychology specializing in mobility at Germany’s University Lüneburg, to

The study recommends combining roadside art with additional traffic-calming measures to take full advantage of drivers’ increased attention.

Still, researchers found that simply erecting the roadside sculptures was enough to reduce traffic violations by 24%.

Put in a new light

The last major update to the traffic light came in 1920 when Detroit introduced the yellow “caution” light.

One hundred years later at the dawn of the self-driving car era, transportation engineers at North Carolina State University believe traffic lights are due for a makeover.

This is due to the rise of the autonomous vehicle, which has the ability to network with each other and with traffic lights to ease traffic delays and reduce fuel consumption.

The study proposes that when enough AVs near a particular intersection at the same time, they can become mobile traffic controllers, communicating with each other to coordinate traffic more efficiently than a traffic light.

When this happens, the standard red, yellow and green light would give way to a fourth white light, signaling to human drivers that AVs are controlling the traffic flow through the intersection and therefore they should just follow the car in front of them.

The engineers tested their theory with traffic simulators and found that the positive effects of the white light increased with the number of AVs on the road.

“When 10% of vehicles are autonomous, you see delays reduced by 3%, and when 30% of vehicles are autonomous, delays are reduced by 10.7%,” Ali Hajbabaie, associate professor of civil, construction, and environmental engineering at North Carolina State, said in a press release.

As of press time, the engineering team has yet to respond to my inquiries about the effectiveness of a fifth “anything goes” purple light. R&B

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