U’s transportation institute works to make travel safer

A professor said vehicles veering off the road is a major cause of fatal crashes.

Anna Weggel

University professor and Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute director Max Donath spoke to members of the state Senate on Thursday about ways to reduce car accidents and fatalities.

Donath presented innovations that the University-located institute is developing to make driving safer.

Vehicles veering off the road is a major cause of fatal crashes, Donath said.

Falling asleep at the wheel, poor weather conditions and obstructed vision can cause drivers to run off the road, he said.

The institute develops technological designs such as the head-up display, which presents an accurate picture of the road, cars and any objects 30 feet or fewer in front of the vehicle on a virtual screen located inside the car.

Donath also spoke of research areas dealing with bus rapid transit lane-assist technology, which aims to make Metro Transit buses more efficient.

Buses could be equipped with intelligent transportation technologies such as the head-up display, navigations systems and digital mapping systems, which would allow them to operate on bus-only shoulders throughout the metro area.

There are also many wireless systems features that car owners can use to help control their driving.

Systems can be created to not allow drivers to start their vehicles until their seatbelts are buckled or to alert them if they are speeding.

“Our society is driven by many ‘type A’ personalities who always need to get there,” Donath said. “We have a comfort level with driving, but we can control it if we so desire.”

Seatbelt use is lowest among teenagers, he said. To help combat this problem, the institute is researching in-vehicle wireless systems that would let parents at home know if their children are wearing seatbelts and inform them if their children are driving over the speed limit.

Lee Munnich, senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, spoke to members of the Senate about congestion pricing, which is currently being proposed for Interstate 394.

Congestion pricing, or MnPass, charges a fee to solo drivers who want to use certain express lanes during peak times of the day. MnPass users each prepay for a device that is automatically scanned when they enter an express lane. The toll varies with the level of congestion. Express lanes would be free for buses and carpools.

By allowing solo travelers to use the express lane, Munnich hopes this will free up nonexpress lanes on Interstate 394.