The University of Wyoming will play an important role in the first phase of a U.S. Department of Transportation grant pilot project aimed at reducing the number and severity of crashes caused by bad weather.

The university will assist in the 12-month concept development phase of the U.S. Department of Transportation Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment Program through the use of its Driving Simulator Laboratory in training truck drivers on new technology and developing the best interfaces for those applications.

The Driving Simulation Laboratory is housed in the UW Engineering Building, and is the only facility of its kind in Wyoming.

“The open source software designs roadways and surroundings, which can be urban or rural settings,” says Mohamed Ahmed, assistant professor in the UW Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering.

“It provides different roadway configurations, with features that include traction on pavement – slippery, slushy or icy,” says Ahmed. “We can include ambient traffic, change the intensity of snow and wind, and have the wind blow in different directions.”

The pilot project is focused on the needs of truckers in Wyoming and aims to develop applications that use vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity to provide weather advisories, roadside alerts, parking notifications and travel information.

“Connected Vehicle is a technology that provides vehicles with 360-degree awareness of similarly equipped vehicles within a 300-meter range,” says Ahmed. “It helps provide real-time dynamic information about road and weather conditions based on your location.”

Commercial vehicles will be equipped with the technology to allow them to communicate with both other vehicles and roadside equipment through the use of Dedicated Short Range Communications – similar to Wi-Fi.

The applications will provide information directly to equipped WYDOT fleets or to fleet management centers of freight carriers via data connections. The management centers can then use their own systems to keep their drivers apprised of the latest weather and road conditions.

According to the U.S. DOT, weather-related crashes resulted in 19 of the 94 fatalities that occurred along I-80 in Wyoming between 2009 and 2014. Elevation, risky situations caused when slow-moving trucks and passenger cars travel the same stretch of roadway, limited parking space along the highway, long distances between towns along I-80, and a lack of alternate routes contributed to a significant number of those crashes.

The pilot program endeavors to improve motorist safety through reducing speed variance, improve driver decision making through increased awareness of conditions, bolster the effectiveness of emergency responders and reduce the number of accidents.

The pilot’s second phase would design, deploy and test new technology over 20 months if funding is secured. The first phase began in late September.

Vince Garcia, WYDOT’s geographic information systems/intelligent transportation system program manager, says WYDOT is in discussions with trucking companies about participating in the pilot study. Garcia says the agency does not know when the technology will be available in vehicles, but development and testing of devices and new applications could begin as early as Sept. 30.

The pilot program is funded by a $42 million grant from the U.S. DOT and will benefit New York City and the Tampa Hillsborough Express Authority in addition to Wyoming. Garcia says Wyoming will see about $5 million to fund the program.

WYDOT says between 11,000 and 16,000 vehicles travel the 402-mile corridor in Wyoming daily.

In April, I-80 between Cheyenne and Rawlins saw two major pile-ups involving a total of 135 vehicles. Two people died, and the economic impact amounted to about $23 million.

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