Work zones are crucial to maintaining the quality of our infrastructure; however, they are inherently dangerous. These areas produce slower traffic and often unusual traffic patterns. This can even include using a single lane for two-way traffic, either signaled by human flaggers or led through by pilot cars. These are challenging driving conditions, and with the much-needed investment in our infrastructure, they are becoming even more common.

Between the changes in traffic flow, complex equipment, and ever-changing activities within them, work zones are more than just an inconvenience for travelers; they introduce risk for everyone involved. According to Work Zone Barriers, 64% of highway contractors reported work zone crashes over the previous year. This leads to project delays, injuries, and tragically, even fatalities. Additionally, 97% of highway contractors reported that the risk of highway work zone crashes was as great or greater than a year ago. 

Accidents in work zones have a myriad of causes. Inattentive, distracted, or inexperienced drivers can cause further danger when traversing a work zone. Plus, autonomous vehicles have difficulty traversing work zones, if they can do it on their own at all. Driver assistance software fails to account for them, and navigational software may guide unwitting drivers right into them. These challenges make work zones a dangerous place, not only for the people driving through them but also for the people working in them. 

See the Route from Miles Away

Even autonomous vehicles can have difficulty with work zones. Just as human drivers use their eyes to discover what’s next when they’re navigating these tricky environments, so too do AVs using cameras, lidar, and radar to navigate. But in work zones, more so than the open road, lives are on the line. What happens if the signs that drivers and cameras rely on get knocked over or obscured? This is why it’s important for drivers, both human and autonomous, to have insights into work zones prior to driving through them. What if they had a map for it? A map that told you not only that a work zone was present, but the safest route through it? What if this map was available miles before the vehicle can even see the work zone?

Such maps would make roads safer, creating a more efficient traffic flow. Creating digital maps of the roads that are updated continuously in near real-time would increase safety exponentially when it comes to work zone awareness and navigation. Providing the marking locations and lane configuration in real time can alert drivers and autonomous vehicles to the current state of the road. When drivers are forewarned, they are forearmed; autonomous vehicles are no different. When an autonomous vehicle has the precise configuration of the road, the work zone is no longer a hazardous mystery. Instead, it becomes as traversable as any busy road. 

Optimizing the flow of traffic through work zones will inherently improve safety and efficiency. Fewer accidents would mean fewer delays and less loss of life. Having up-to-date maps and real-time information on the state of work zones, overall, can help bring all of that to reality. These maps are the key to heightened road safety and work zone efficiency. Real-time digital maps updated as the roads change will help shape the way we move and connect as the transportation system continues to evolve. 

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