HIGH-FLYING SAFETY INITIATIVE AIMS TO GET TRAFFIC MOVING MORE QUICKLY AFTER AN INCIDENT
When something unexpected like a traffic crash happens, getting first responders to the scene to treat you if you’re injured is the first priority. While this is happening, law enforcement and other first responders, including the Iowa Department of Transportation, are completing investigations and doing whatever they can to get the road cleared so traffic can get moving normally again.
In the Iowa City area, we’re working with our Highway Helper contractor, Autobase, to test the use of drones to clear these incidents even more quickly. The idea for the project came up when our Traffic Operations Bureau Director Andy Lewis learned about drones being used for quick clearance in other states. He said, “Being a licensed drone pilot myself, I’m always interested in new technology and uses for that technology. When I learned about states using drones to get traffic moving more quickly, I looked for ways to bring that to Iowa. It makes sense to have the Highway Helper provide this service since they are already on the scene.”
Lewis and Autobase were able to work out a process to add a drone to the Highway Helper tool kit. Travis Schooley, our Autobase project manager, said, “We’re always looking for ways to improve safety on the road. That includes the safety of all travelers and first responders. If we can use drones to visualize a scene and help clear it more quickly, everyone benefits.”
Lewis said, “Staff in our Traffic Management Center in Ankeny often use live video feeds from our stationary cameras to assess an incident and relay information that may help the boots on the ground get the road cleared as quickly as possible. Using the drone, we can quickly get a camera out to areas where we don’t currently have those stationary cameras. The drone we’re using in Iowa City has the capability to stream live video as well as take high-resolution still photographs.”
Robert Rutledge, a Highway Helper in Iowa City, is already well-versed in traffic incident management. Now, as a licensed drone pilot, he can marry those principles with his flying skills to capture video and still images that will not only immediately help first responders at the scene, but also those who review the incident’s aftermath.
In addition to the live-streamed video, the footage and still images can be captured and saved for review to see if the traffic incident management principles that were used could be improved. Lewis said, “Using the drone provides a whole new vantage point that we’ve not had before. We can use it when we’re setting up a work zone to make sure all elements are positioned correctly to make the area as safe as possible. If an incident does happen, we can use the drone footage to review the road set-up and how responders worked together during the incident to make suggestions that may improve safety even more.”
The pilot project has just recently gotten off the ground, Lewis said it is going to take some time to evaluate the effectiveness and determine the next steps. He explained, “We are always hopeful that traffic flows smoothly and we don’t have many incidents. The reality is that we will have some crashes. When those happen, we’ll work with the responders on-scene to determine if the drone was helpful in getting the road cleared more quickly. If we see a benefit to this technology, it is possible we’ll expand it to other parts of the state in the future if we can secure funding for equipment and work out an agreement with our Highway Helper provider.”
The project is working towards two of our five-year priority goals of improving transportation system safety and performance and growing innovation.