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The National Academies

NCHRP 03-145 [Anticipated]

National Traffic Sensor System Evaluation Program

  Project Data
Source: AASHTO Committee on Transportation System and Operations
Funds: $600,000
Staff Responsibility: Zuxuan Deng
Fiscal Year: 2023

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected to be available on this website. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

Traffic sensors are essential components of all highway traffic monitoring and traffic management systems. Traffic monitoring depends upon reliable vehicle detection and accurate measurement of traffic volume, speed, classification, and weight. Active traffic management systems and other intelligent transportation systems applications require these parameters and more, for varied uses like wrong-way driving detection, near-miss crash analysis, commercial vehicle screening, predictive analysis, and others.

Sensor systems based on new and emerging technologies—such as optics, electronics, communications, and artificial intelligence—are rapidly supplanting traditional traffic sensor systems, but their accuracy and performance typically lack objective and independent evaluation. State and local agencies must often rely on informal, inconclusive evaluations and pilot deployments to assess sensor systems’ suitability for highway applications. The burden to test every sensor type and revision that comes to market creates massive duplication of effort and wastes time, effort, and funding.

Although millions of traffic sensors are in use, manufacturers and distributers can rarely provide independent third-party test results demonstrating their real-world performance. Sensor errors can seriously affect safety and mobility, particularly in critical traffic contexts. For example, the lack of quantified error rates and types introduces significant risk into use cases involving high traffic volumes and speeds. In addition, the lack of information regarding system performance and reliability in different operational domains can lead to misapplication of sensor systems, unacceptable performance, or short service life.

An authoritative method is needed to characterize the performance and identify the operational domains of current and emerging traffic sensor systems. The research should develop test procedures that could be applied within the AASHTO’s National Transportation Product Evaluation Program or a similar program.

This research should examine current practice and needs, and then define a comprehensive evaluation methodology applicable to traffic management and traffic monitoring sensor systems in each mode being detected (e.g., vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle). The test protocols should incorporate factors such as weather conditions, lighting and background, and traffic and roadway characteristics to characterize sensors’ operational domains. The methodology will allow testing laboratories to evaluate sensor systems and show whether the methods and protocols are replicable, transferable, and ultimately useful to transportation agencies. The research should also examine the feasibility of establishing a national testing program through existing or newly created institutions and evaluate potential business models in consideration of the needs and receptivity of transportation agencies and industry.

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