Automotive > Powertrain, Body, Chassis & Safety Blog

Time to End Pileups

by Roger Lanctot | Feb 12, 2021

Two pileups in one day - one in Forth Worth, Texas, and one in Cobb County, Georgia. Enough is enough.

We're all familiar with multi-car pileup stories regardless of whether the cause is fog, whiteout conditions, or black ice. There's the number of the highway, the location, the number of vehicles, and the number of injuries and fatalities. It's a little like the tornado-hits-a-trailer-park stories - routine. That's the problem.

As pileups go, yesterday's 133-car pileup in Forth Worth, Texas, which occurred in black ice conditions and took the lives of six motorists, was one of the more epic. It was followed by news of a 16-car pileup in Georgia - small potatoes. There must be a way to prevent or at least mitigate these scenarios and there are some solutions in the pipeline.

We've all seen variable message signs displaying warnings from gantries hanging above highways. We've heard the local traffic and weather reports on the radio warning of slippery or black ice conditions. I even get a warning message in the instrument cluster of my car when temperatores dip near or below freezing. But these measures seem insufficient.

One critical step would be to deliver more accurate and timely information to drivers in their vehicles in real time and at specific locations. I tend to ignore the temperature alert in my car because it isn't useful or actionable. By the time I have gotten in my car I already know its brrrrr cold outside. I might respond differently if my car is telling me that the sharp turn I am approaching might be hazardous at this specific time.

Some automotive engineers have long endorsed and promoted instant car-to-car communications including vehicle sensor data such as stability control or other systems reporting slippery road surfaces. The only problem with these systems is they are dependent on the vehicle on the road ahead of you warning you about slippery conditions after they've already encountered them. The goal ought to be to anticipate and avoid the danger altogether.

Global Weather Corporation, offers a comprehensive predictive road weather data set for anticipating road surface conditions. Global Weather's solution provides the dynamic data necessary, in real time, to anticipate those locations where and when road surface conditions are likely to be dangerous - i.e. slippery.

Global Weather's data is compiled from road weather information network (ARWIS) sensors and other sources and is available in WeatherBug - but what is required for it to be useful to drivers is an integration with in-vehicle systems including embedded navigation and safety systems. Truckers and drivers of passenger vehicles alike should have access to Global Weather road weather data in order to anticipate and avoid multi-vehicle pileups - wherever and whenever they might occur.

The good news is that Global Weather's solution is available in mapping company HERE's Open Location Marketplace and, perhaps even more importantly, Global Weather is collaborating with Sweden-based Nira Dynamics to combine road weather predictive models with real-time vehicle sensor data for an even more comprehensive view of road friction and - a Nira added value - roughness.

With a little luck, Global Weather's predictive road weather data will find its way into your and my next new car. In this way, you and I can avoid seeing our faces and our cars in the next pileup featured on the evening news.

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