For the remainder of this year, Drs. David Martinelli and Avi Unnikrishnan, professors of civil engineering at West Virginia University, will be busy researching three separate projects for the state and U.S. Department of Transportation. The professors received $500,000 to conduct research on fog detection, the state’s graduated driver licensing program and school zone traffic control strategies.

“These three projects address some of the emerging transportation issues and priorities in our state,” said Martinelli. “In general they are aimed at improving highway safety toward reducing accidents, injuries and fatalities on our roadways.”

Fog is among the most dangerous weather conditions with respect to multi-car crashes. “Fog events are known to either be recurring or non-recurring,” Martinelli said. If it’s recurring, there is an opportunity to detect it with a high degree of reliability and warn drivers accordingly.

The fog detection research will examine current technology for predicting and detecting fog events and make recommendations as to the type of systems to deploy, if any, at locations in West Virginia.

The second research project involves researching and examining current laws associated with school zones. Emerging trends, such as fewer students walking to school, fewer students riding the bus, consolidated schools and more teenagers driving, have led to major congestion and safety issues.

“We will be researching different ways to alleviate the congestion and transportation hazards by looking at traffic devices, access layouts and possible changes to drop-off hours and policies,” Martinelli said.

A recurring problem among many consolidated schools built near major highways or active transportation routes is that they may not fall under the school zone law, making it difficult to implement a slower speed limit during school transportation hours.

The third research project involves the graduated licensing program in West Virginia and its effectiveness in promoting safety among younger drivers. While most states currently have some form of the program, there is no real evidence of whether it is working.

“The intent of GDL programs is to reduce accidents among young drivers by allowing them to accumulate driving experience under the safest conditions possible,” Martinelli said. For state residents, this means restrictions on night driving, the number of authorized passengers and occasionally, specific highways are restricted.

Martinelli and Unnikrishnan and their team of graduate students will be looking at the attitudes and level of awareness from teenagers, their parents and local police officers.

“In general, GDLs are difficult for police to enforce, but we believe that their effectiveness might lie more in empowering parents to impose restrictions and manage their child’s driving experience,” explained Martinelli.

“There are existing pilot programs where parents and the teenager sign contracts agreeing to obey the designated restrictions,” Martinelli said.

Researchers in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources will be working closely with the School of Journalism in order to develop survey instruments as well as public awareness recommendations with respect to the GDL program and school zones.

The duration of the research projects is approximately one year and will employ both graduate and undergraduate students. Martinelli is excited about involving undergraduate students in these projects, as they will gain valuable technical experience that goes beyond the classroom learning.

“It is always fun to include undergraduate students in our projects, but this is especially true for these projects since our undergraduate students are in the same age group as those we will be studying in two of the three projects,” said Martinelli. “Hopefully, they can relate to the issues and the implications of possible programs and changes.”

Public reports from all three projects will be published through the West Virginia Division of Highways Office of Research.



CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon

Check daily for the latest news from the University. Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.