WORK-ZONE SAFETY: New app alerts drivers to construction zones

May 30, 2017

The technology developed by University of Minnesota researchers will send audible messages to motorists approaching work zones

The University of Minnesota (U of M) Center for Transportation Studies has developed an app that will pair directly with technology in construction areas to alert drivers approaching work zones.

Workers can send messages to drivers as they approach construction zones. The idea is not for the drivers to look down at the app or the phone but to have it speak to drivers. The app has the ability to pick up the signals from 500 ft away, and once it has the signal it broadcasts the message through the mobile device.

U of M's Human First Lab tested the app for driver distractions. Researchers tracked and analyzed the eye movements and responses of 100 different drivers as they navigated several simulated construction zones. They compared the message coming from the smartphone to a portable changeable message sign like the ones on the side of the road.

The researchers found that people spent more time looking away from the road to look at the portable signs than they did when the message was sent from the smartphone. In addition, the theory is that if a driver is distracted by their phone, the message will interrupt whatever they are doing on the phone with the warning that construction is up ahead.

Now that the app passed initial trials, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and U of M are looking into the best way to use and implement the technology. One option they are considering is an audio-only notification which would work directly with other navigation apps such as Google Maps or Waze.