ST PAUL, Minn. - Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and travelers will encounter plenty of construction around the state.
Ken Johnson with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) is a safe work zone engineer and he said, "The number one contributor of crashes within work zones is distracted driving."
You can't see construction zones approaching or hazards in the road if you don't have your 'eyes up.'
The University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies has developed an app that will pair directly with technology in construction zones. Researcher Chen-Fu Liao calls it "a Bluetooth beacon."
Workers can send messages to drivers as they approach construction zones. The idea is not to look down at the app or the phone but to have it speak to drivers.
The app can pick up the signals from 500 feet away and once it has the signal it broadcasts the message through the mobile device.
The U of M's Human First Lab tested the app for driver distractions. Researcher Nichole Morris tracked and analyzed the eye movements and responses of 100 different drivers as they navigated several simulated construction zones.
They compared the message coming from the smartphone to a portable changeable message sign like the ones on the side of the road.
The researchers found that people spent more time looking away from the road to look at the portable signs than they did when the message was sent from the smartphone.
Morris said about the app, "It was less visually distracting and we saw it had less mental workload on the driver."
And if a driver is being distracted by their phone the message will interrupt whatever they are doing on the phone with the warning that construction is up ahead.
Now that it passed initial trials, MnDOT and the U of M are looking into the best way to use and implement the technology. One option they're considering is an audio-only notification which would work directly with other navigation apps, like Google Maps or Waze.
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