Tag Archives: speeding

How Did COVID-19 Affect Driver Safety?

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in fewer drivers on Minnesota’s roads in 2020 than in the previous year. Emptier roadways seem like they should be safer, but many states measured increases in speeding. For example, California issued twice as many speeding tickets, Iowa reported a 65% increase in driving 25 mph or more over the speed limit, and Ohio experienced the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2007. Clearly, some drivers were taking advantage of empty streets to speed. The pandemic also strained police forces, resulting in less enforcement.

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New Project: Impact of Speed Limit Changes on Urban Streets

Speeding is one of the top 5 factors in crashes in Minnesota. Prioritizing the most effective methods to encourage safe speeds is critical to maximizing effort and funding to reach zero deaths on our roadways.

In 2019, legislation passed to allow Minnesota cities to establish speed limits for city streets under the city’s jurisdiction without conducting an engineering or traffic investigation.

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Reducing speeds to improve safety for work-zone flaggers

When drivers approach a roadway work zone at high speeds, they put the lives of work-zone flaggers at risk. To keep flaggers safe on the job, U of M researchers are looking for better ways to capture drivers’ attention—and compel them to slow down—as they approach flagger-controlled work zones.

Kathleen Harder, director of the Center for Design in Health, and John Hourdos, director of the Minnesota Traffic Observatory, identified and tested new work-zone warning elements to more effectively capture and sustain driver attention. The project was funded by MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board.

The project began with a simulator study in which participants completed three drives, each featuring a work zone with different warning treatments. One condition was a traditional four-sign configuration currently used to warn drivers approaching work zones. The other two conditions featured a variety of new elements, including signage with new messaging such as  a “one-lane road ahead” sign with flashing LED lights, a dynamic speed warning sign equipped with a loud warning horn that sounded if drivers exceeded the speed limit, and portable rumble strips.

“Overall, we found that the new set of elements is more effective than the elements currently used to reduce driving speeds on the approach to a flagger-controlled work zone,” Harder says.

Although adding LED lights to the one-lane road sign had no significant effect on drivers’ speeds, findings indicated that the dynamic speed sign coupled with the horn was more effective than the dynamic sign alone.

To test these new elements under real-world conditions, the researchers conducted field tests evaluating two configurations in Minnesota work zones. The first configuration followed the minimum standards outlined in the Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The second deployed signs employing new messaging and attention-getting devices, including a dynamic speed warning sign, horn, and rumble strips.

Findings showed that the combination of the dynamic speed warning sign and the horn successfully reduced the overall speed of vehicles approaching the work zone. The portable rumble strips did not cause any significant speed reduction, but this may have been related to their location downstream from the dynamic speed sign and horn.

“Our findings reveal that the new set of elements designed to capture driver attention—including new messaging, a dynamic speed trailer, and horn—had a significant influence on reducing driver speed,” Harder says. “The experimental layout practically eliminated high-speed outliers and successfully reduced the approach speed to the flag operator.”