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Engineering Researchers Study System to Improve Intersection Safety

Wednesday, 3 July 2013 8:29 CDT

Researchers at the University of Kansas School of Engineering have partnered with the cities of Lawrence and Overland Park to increase safety at four busy intersections by reducing red light violations and simplifying law enforcement efforts to monitor potential infractions.

The project is funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Mid-America Transportation Center, and it is under the direction of Associate Professor Steven Schrock and postdoctoral researcher Eric Fitzsimmons with the School of Engineering. Red light running at intersections with traffic signals continues to be a serious safety concern for Kansas drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. In 2011, the Federal Highway Administration reported 676 fatalities (10 percent of all signalized intersection crashes) were due to red light running in the United States, based on 2009 crash data. Since automated enforcement by traffic camera is not used in Kansas, researchers will install a blue confirmation light system at the following intersections starting the first week of July:

• Iowa Street and 23rd Street in Lawrence

• Louisiana Street and 23rd Street in Lawrence

• College Boulevard and Quivira Road in Overland Park

• 75th Street and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park

These intersections were selected based on recommendations from each city’s public works department, police department and the KU research team.

The blue light confirmation system is a low-cost, noninvasive countermeasure designed to help police officers sitting downstream of the intersection safely identify and pull over drivers who run a red light.  Each traffic signal mast arm will have one or two blue lights, one adjacent to the left turn signal, the other next to the through signal.  While the traffic signal is green, the blue light remains off.  The blue light comes on the moment the traffic signal turns red, so law enforcement officials monitoring an intersection can use the blue light as a visual cue.  If it’s illuminated, no cars from that lane should enter the intersection.  The blue light is visible from 360 degrees, so officers will know a motorist has run a red light even if they cannot directly see the traffic signal change colors.

The goal is to increase safety at intersections, reduce the number of officers needed to monitor an intersection and reduce the need to interrupt traffic to chase a violating vehicle through an intersection. School of Engineering researchers will evaluate the confirmation light system over the next six months and report effectiveness results to city and state officials. The system has shown promising results in similar communities in Florida, Kentucky, Texas and Minnesota.

“The School of Engineering is excited to partner with the cities of Lawrence and Overland Park in the effort to improve driver safety at these busy intersections,” said Schrock, associate professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering at the University of Kansas.  “We believe this system can be a valuable tool for law enforcement while substantially reducing the instances of red light running and making the roads safer for everyone.”

Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass emphasized the role the blue light system could play in traffic safety.

“The safety of our citizens and the officers who serve them are paramount to what we do on a daily basis,” Douglass said. “This simple yet innovative system will allow us to safely monitor and enforce traffic violations at two of the city’s busiest intersections in regard to traffic accidents.”