511 enhancement enables motorists
What you see is what you get. ITD now offers an opportunity for others to get what you see.
A new enhancement to the 511 Traveler Information system puts highway condition reporting in the hands of those who know the conditions best – drivers. An interactive component, “CARS-Vox,” added in September, enables drivers to report what they experienced on their commutes or drives across the state.
511 Traveler Services coordinator Tony Ernest calls it a new form of “crowd sourcing,” enabling direct input by drivers using the “full feature” option on the
The enhancement was developed specifically for ITD by CARS (Condition Acquisition Reporting System) that provides the technology behind 511 systems in 10 states across the country and in one non-state organization – the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.
Utah uses a similar, but slightly different “citizen reporting” system, and Wyoming accepts citizen reports through its operations center and manually transfers those reports into its 511 system, Ernest said. Neither is a member of the CARS coalition, but they use an alternative service to provide similar information.
But Idaho’s version is one of the national leaders. Iowa and Sacramento will join Idaho this winter in introducing CARS-Vox citizen reporting. It is based on pre-selected routes that users save in the full feature (high bandwidth) option on the 511 website. Users who have established a free account and saved routes they commonly travel now have ability to self-report conditions.
How to use the new option, available only on the high bandwidth or “Full Feature” option:
Before attempting to enter observations, citizen reporters should contact Ernest for a brief overview on using the new option. Reporting the conditions encountered will take a little practice, he advises.
Motorists can break their travel into several smaller segments and provide reports on each. The interactive 511 map enables users to “slide “ or reposition beginning and ending points on the map to expand or contract the segments desired.
Information is clearly identified as a “driver update, and includes a time stamp and an attribution. Drivers can use a pseudonym if they choose. All data input is filtered for inappropriate language and is monitored. It also includes a disclaimer that ITD is not responsible for the accuracy or validity of the citizen input.
To ensure that reports are timely, they are automatically deleted after four hours.
Drivers should access the CARS-Vox system only after completing their trip and never while driving, Ernest insists. While mobile access to the 511 system might be possible, it usually requires faster data transmission speeds and larger bandwidth than many mobile devices can accommodate.
The safest and easiest option is to file the reports from work or home after arriving.
The citizen reporting feature is the latest of many enhancements ITD has made to the 511 system to ensure motorists have the best information available when making travel plans. ITD’s award-winning system remains one of the most robust in the country, based on input and suggestions of its users. It is constantly evolving to better serve travelers.
“Our goal is to make sure drivers have access to timely and accurate information, whether they are commuting to and from work or traveling across the state,” Ernest says.
“The new option supplements reports our maintenance personnel make in the field. No matter how well our employees report on conditions, there are always opportunities to fill in the gaps. That’s what the new feature is designed to do.”
The 511 system is updated immediately whenever reports are entered from ITD employees in the field. That can occur continually during a winter storm event. Even if conditions are unchanged, the 511 reports are updated at least twice daily during the winter and at lease once daily on weekends and holidays. With citizen reporting, updates are constant throughout the day, in near-real time.”
Information also is available through e-mail alerts or text messages if users choose those options.
Hazardous condition alerts to be
The new alerts are based on highway and weather data recorded at more than 100 Road Weather Information Stations (RWIS) located at strategic sites across Idaho. A new icon that features a thermometer in a red triangle will identify places where motorists might encounter slick highway surfaces, high winds, snowfall or low visibility (fog, blowing snow and dust), explains Tony Ernest, coordinator of ITD’s 511 system.
“Travelers will have access to the hazard alert information generated automatically from our 511 system,” Ernest says. “It will create a more visible way of identifying areas that might have hazardous conditions.”
Available on the “full feature” (high bandwidth site), the alerts will display automatically on the 511 Idaho map, even if website users don’t choose to display camera views. When they select the icon, an array of highway and weather reports will be visible, but a special banner at the top of the window will clearly identify the hazardous conditions that can be expected.
The window also shows a wealth of more traditional highway data associated with the RWIS sites that have been available for about six years. Created primarily as a tool for maintenance crews, the RWIS sites include camera views of major highways and mountain passes. The cameras and condition reports help motorists make safe travel decisions, even if hazard alerts have not been triggered. Data includes:
Ernest hopes hazard reports will be available on the “streamlined” 511 section in the future and perhaps push those alerts directly to motorists as technology and funds become available.
Idaho is the only state in the CARS (Condition Acquisition Reporting System) coalition that can generate automatic hazardous condition alerts or warnings, Ernest says.
ITD invested about $45,000 in the new enhancement and has been working on implementing it since early summer.
ITD's 511 evolving system remains one of best in nation
ITD’s 511 Traveler Services system replaced the Idaho road report in 2005, providing computer access to information that previously was voice recorded and made available through a toll-free telephone number.
Technology has improved exponentially the past decade, along with consumers' appetites for immediate information. ITD abandoned its labor-intensive telephone system and introduced a new web-based 511 Traveler Services (511.idaho.gov) initiative as part of a nationwide movement in transportation.
ITD’s 511 system is a “living” technology that continues to evolve through ongoing enhancements. The backbone of the system (CARS 511, Condition Acquisition Reporting System) was developed by Castle Rock Consultants, which represents a nationwide consortium of transportation agencies.
This fall, ITD introduced a new option for users of its full-featured, web-based system – direct reports from motorists who provide near real-time condition updates. Another enhancement will use new icons to provide visitors to the full feature site of hazardous conditions as recorded at more than 100 Road Weather Information Stations statewide.
What is next on the horizon for ITD’s 511 system?
ITD plans to add a “Smart 511” update to simplify the telephone process. It would recognize the home number of the caller, tailor a welcome message and provide information early in a telephone call rather than driving callers deeper into a series of menu options.
It will provide more direct, faster access to the information that callers want, explains Tony Ernest, coordinator of ITD’s 511 Traveler Services system.
A smart phone app (application) will let the 511 system “follow” motorists as they drive and customize information specific to their location. The app will provide access to winter driving conditions and road reports, traffic conditions and camera views, among others.The smart phone app could be available to join the other active enhancements within a year, Ernest says. He encourages 511 users to contact him with suggestions about possible enhancements in the future.
Best approach to winter driving: Be prepared
Many Idahoans will go "over the river and through the woods" for Thanksgiving reunions this month, and chances are good that winter driving conditions will be on the holiday menu at higher elevations.
ITD encourages drivers to plan ahead, make sure their vehicle is properly checked, equipped for winter travel and exercise appropriate caution on the highways.
Idaho is rugged country with a diverse geography and natural beauty. The qualities that invite exploration, recreation and commerce also can make winter driving a challenge. Safely navigating Idaho’s winter weather and highways requires preparation.
It begins before you begin, ITD advises.
“We often receive a few early storms that remind us winter is around the corner and that we should begin to anticipate more difficult driving conditions,” said ITD Chief Engineer Tom Cole. He encourages Idaho drivers to make sure their vehicles are ready for the coming season and to begin preparing for snow-covered roads.
“Preparation and anticipation are two strategies that will help ensure safe winter driving. Our highest priority is to provide the safest travel conditions possible. We have professionals assigned to winter maintenance, and they are ready for the challenges ahead. But we also ask drivers to do their part to make winter travel safer by exercising caution and patience," Cole added.
Now is the time to make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the demands of winter driving. The transportation department will do everything possible from a maintenance perspective to ensure that you arrive safely at your destination.
The department encourages a pre-winter vehicle inspection that includes tires, brakes, windshield wipers and fluid levels. Drivers should carry essential emergency items when traveling on Idaho highways. They also should be familiar with how their vehicle handles in a variety of conditions, including snow and ice.
Drivers should check Idaho’s 511 Traveler Services website (511.idaho.gov) or call 5-1-1 before traveling out of town in the winter for the latest reports on highway and weather conditions. Reports are updated at least twice daily during the week and at least once daily on weekends. They also are changed more frequently as weather and highway conditions change.
Perhaps the best defense against demanding winter driving conditions is a good offense: ITD recommends that drivers should never turn the ignition key without first buckling their seat belt.
Top 10 tips for safe winter travel
As Idaho motorists take to the roads this winter, ITD reminds that a few extra precautions can make winter journeys safer. ITD's top 10 recommendations for safe winter travel are:
1. Be prepared. Winter conditions increase the importance of a well-maintained vehicle. Keep car windows, mirrors and lights clear of snow and ice. Make sure tires and brakes are ready for the extra demands of winter. Visit a mechanic and ensure car battery and fluid levels are sufficient, heating units are working properly and that tires have sufficient traction for snowy conditions.
2. Plan ahead. Before heading out on the state's roadways, dial 5-1-1 or visit 511.idaho.gov on the Web for updates on winter road and weather conditions, emergency closures and access to highway condition reports. Images from cameras throughout the state are available on the website and on the mobile web application.
3. Buckle up. Wearing a seat belt is the most effective safety precaution you can take. Children also must be properly secured in an approved safety seat that is right for their age and weight and installed according to specifications. If you need help ensuring proper installation, watch for local clinics or visit a fire station in your area.
4. Check the signs. ITD uses variable message signs on high-traffic routes to advise motorists of winter hazards. Those messages change as conditions change. Also pay attention to roadside signs, such as speed limits, high wind and low visibility advisories, sharp curves and potentially icy bridges.
5. Slow down. Leave a few minutes early, allow windshields adequate time to defrost and allow extra time to get to your destination. It is better to be a few minutes late than to not arrive at all. Don’t put yourself and others at risk by driving too fast for the conditions. Posted speed limits represent maximum speeds for ideal conditions. The basic rule suggests lower speeds as dictated by weather and highway conditions.
6. Use extra caution. Be aware of potentially icy areas such as shady spots and bridges. Take caution against black ice. Drive less than the speed limit if conditions warrant. Allow extra distance between your car and the one you’re following. Check your mirrors to see how other motorists are driving; anticipate their actions.
7. Drive safely around snowplows. Drive at least two car lengths behind snowplows for every 10 mph of car speed. Do not pass a snowplow unless absolutely necessary and only when you have a clear view of the highway ahead. Never drive through the snow being ejected from plows because the force of the spray can throw a car out of control.
8. Keep emergency supplies in the car. Flashlights, extra batteries, first aid kit, pocket knife/multi-purpose tool, blanket or sleeping bag, extra clothing, small sack of sand or cat litter for generating traction under vehicle wheels, a small shovel, bottled water, booster cables, rope, energy bars or other food, brightly-colored scarf to attract attention in case of an emergency, waterproof matches or cigarette lighter and a map of the area.
9. Keep in touch. If carrying a cell phone, make sure its battery is fully charged and have a list of emergency telephone numbers available. Also, share travel plans with family or friends, including estimated departure and arrival times, intended route and destination.
10. Never drink and drive. Idaho law enforcement officers will increase patrols, especially during holidays, to catch and arrest drunk drivers. Be safe and keep others safe by designating a sober driver before traveling to any party or event involving alcohol consumption.
Make sure your vehicle is in good winter condition
The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends that drivers check their vehicles to ensure equipment is in good winter operating condition. If in doubt, replace parts or equipment. Consult a repair technician for complicated inspections.
Items to check:
Stay safe when driving near snowplows
As winter weather approaches, ITD reminds motorists to use caution when traveling the state's highways during inclement weather and to cooperate with maintenance workers clearing the highways.
Operating a vehicle safely in winter conditions
It may seem obvious, but operating a vehicle in winter conditions is vastly different than in normal, dry conditions. Stopping distances are greater, handling is more difficult and driving requires your undivided attention. You can't be too cautious.
Following are some tips that will help you when operating a vehicle in the winter:
Emergency supplies for your vehicle
Carry the following in an emergency box or plastic tub in your vehicle trunk or cargo area of your SUV or pickup:
Basic automobile parts can help save a stranded motorist. Put these automotive parts to good use in an extreme emergency: