Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2019

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How new technology is improving NHP’s response to car accidents

I-15 fatal accident

Steve Marcus

Traffic on southbound Interstate 15 is restricted as Nevada Highway Patrol troopers investigate a fatal accident near Blue Diamond Road Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011. Using new technology, NHP is able to more quickly assess the scope of a car accident.

Nevada Highway Patrol trooper Clifford Fontaine describes information as power for him and his colleagues — the power to respond quickly and effectively to accidents, the power to provide prompt medical attention to victims and the power to get traffic moving again as quickly as possible.

So Fontaine said that when he was called recently to an accident in the northbound lanes of Interstate 15 near Sahara Avenue, a new high-tech system that makes real-time information available to emergency responders was invaluable.

On a tablet device mounted in his patrol car, Fontaine got an at-a-glance look at the scene through a feed from a highway camera mounted nearby. He immediately realized that the accident, which might have seemed routine if it had merely been reported over the radio, was anything but run-of-the-mill.

“I was able to see that this was actually a huge incident,” he said. “All of the traffic lanes were impacted, either by vehicles, oil or debris.”

With that information in hand, Fontaine said, officials were able to quickly assemble a response from troopers and the Freeway Assistance Program to move the vehicles, clean up the road and restore traffic flow.

“What might have taken an hour at one time, we were able to accomplish in 30 minutes,” he said.

On Monday, Fontaine was part of a demonstration of new traffic technology for Nevada state lawmakers at the Southern Nevada Traffic Management Center.

Members of the Nevada Tech Caucus took part in the event, which included a tour of the center, a ride in an autonomous shuttle and a drive in an Audi sedan featuring technology allowing the vehicle to interface with street lights. The caucus comprises five state senators and nine Assembly members.

Held a week before the start of the 2019 Nevada legislative session, the event was a not-too-subtle pitch to lawmakers for support of funding for traffic safety.

But it also offered insight about how officials were using technology to help protect motorists and reduce congestion.

One key component is Waycare, a system that uses cameras, telemetrics from Internet-connected vehicles and input from mobile app users to help predict and prevent accidents.

Lawmakers were told a test of the system on I-15 near Russell Road yielded a 17 percent reduction in crashes and prompted a 91 percent reduction in speed. In the test, which was conducted during periods of high congestion, officials posted a caution on an automated sign and set up a patrol car near the area to prompt motorists to slow down.

Using telemetrics from connected vehicles or observations from cameras, officials can use the system to find hot spots where cars are braking sharply or swerving — indications of an accident or a tie-up. That information allows for prompt traffic enforcement or accident response.

Another benefit of the system is that it allows the Regional Transportation Commission to send text alerts not only to users who have subscribed to the texts through the RTC but to users of the Waze traffic app.

Lawmakers questioned how the systems worked, but also asked about privacy and security related matters during the hourlong event.