In a modern world, you're constantly connected to your phone, computer, tablet, and car, so why not your roads? As smart technology continues to transform many aspects of daily life, roadways are finally starting to catch up. No longer simple stretches of pavement; highway and road systems — at least in many places — are gradually becoming more intuitive to improve driving efficiency. With many Americans facing longer commute times than ever before, these improvements are very good news. Take a look at some of the ways smart roads are changing how you drive.

A green traffic light sits in the foreground with traffic backed up in the background

Smart Corridors

If you've driven along the highway and noticed a sign communicating traffic information, such as upcoming road work or an accident up ahead, you’ve already experienced a smart corridor system. These signs convey important information to drivers and have made a solid presence across the country’s highways. Smart corridor systems typically include overhead signs, traffic information boards, and ramp meters. They are especially helpful in reducing traffic congestion due to an accident, as drivers can take alternate routes before reaching the crash site.

It's already common for highways to use smart corridor systems, and many cities are now incorporating this technology on their busiest streets. Beyond traffic information boards and overhead signs, other city features include:

  • Public Transit Queue Jump: Queue jumps offer pullouts so buses can stop without interrupting traffic and then utilize special traffic lights to help buses merge seamlessly back onto the road.
  • Smart Kiosks: As seen in a test run in Kansas City, some cities implement kiosks along city blocks to broadcast information about transportation routes and city services.
  • Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons: These pedestrian-activated devices signal drivers and stop traffic when a pedestrian needs to cross. They have been shown to reduce pedestrian-related accidents by 69 percent, and by eliminating the timer system and only stopping traffic when someone needs to cross, they also improve efficiency.
A traffic light sits next to a countdown sign with a bright blue sky in the background

Smart Traffic Lights

Smart traffic lights adjust to real-time traffic to keep traffic flowing, especially during times of congestion. These lights also practice coordinated signal timing along a road, a technique that allows the highest number of vehicles to pass in the shortest amount of time. The technology appears to be performing well. A pilot run testing the smart light system in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reduced travel time by 25 percent and idling time by more than 40 percent. With more efficient travel, researchers also predict that emissions could decrease by 21 percent.

Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Systems

Imagine if the road could alert your vehicle that black ice is on the road ahead, or if your car could communicate with parking meters to easily find an available spot. With vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology, this kind of driving could soon be a reality. These systems would allow vehicles to communicate with a variety of road devices, such as tollbooths and freeway lamp signals. This would allow infrastructure devices to alert your vehicle if a detour is necessary, if ice is on the road, or if there is road work up ahead.

Electronic Tolls

Stopping to pay a toll on any road may soon be a thing of the past. Toll plazas throughout the country continue to replace their old toll booths with cashless electronic toll systems. If you're a driver who already has a transponder and payment account for paying tolls, nothing will change for you. Otherwise, the systems use high-tech sensors and cameras to snap a photo of your license plate as you drive through the tolling area. Several weeks after passing through the toll, you receive a bill in the mail.

Although the system isn't perfect, it's a step in the right direction. Cashless systems keep traffic moving, reduce commute times and accidents near tolling areas, and make it easier for those drivers who never seem to remember they need cash in hand before entering the toll road.

Smart Road Benefits

Implementing smart road systems such as these reduces traffic congestion, decreases vehicle emissions, cuts down on travel times, and reduces accident rates. As more communities create smart roads and auto manufacturers produce more smart cars that utilize advanced technology, you can look forward to a faster, smoother commute on the horizon.

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