Momentum Issue #94

March 28, 2022

Leveraging Work Zone Data to Improve Safety on our Roads

National Work Zone Awareness Week is Around the Corner (April 11-15)! 

Work zones have become increasingly prevalent on our roads and can be uniquely dangerous for passenger vehicles, freight vehicles, work zone workers, and — looking to the future — automated vehicles. Speeds change, lanes change, and construction workers are often present and at risk. Ensuring everyone is speaking the same language when it comes to collecting and communicating work zone data and making it accessible to everyone can help save lives on our roads. The Work Zone Date Exchange (WZDx) initiative does just that. Co-led by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO), WZDx establishes a uniform, universal data standard to ultimately improve roadway safety and efficiency.

WZDx will allow for work zone data from hundreds of sites across the country to be gathered in a common format. It will then be compiled by infrastructure owners and operators (IOOs), like state and local DOTs, published in a data feed open to everyone, picked up by mapping companies, and then delivered directly to roadway users through navigation apps. The data reveals more than just the location of existing work zones — it will show live updates for lane closures and changes and in the future could include work zone worker location. A feed produced with WZDx marks a major leap forward in the accuracy of that data and how it is used and reported.

Many infrastructure owner-operators (IOOs) rely on cutting-edge devices like smart arrow boards, traffic backup warning systems, and sensors that deliver alerts on signboards leading into the work zone.

WZDx can complement other smart tech devices, such as devices meant to monitor speed, which is then reported to third-party navigation apps like Waze, to help alert motorists and improve safety. WZDx can also address challenges in rural work zones. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, nearly half of the roadway fatalities in the United States each year occur on rural roads, even though only about a fifth of the population lives in rural areas. Rural areas also have connectivity issues, making data collection by smart-tech devices like smart cones, Dynamic Message Signs (DMS), or Variable Message Signs (VMS) unreliable at times. Having more data and better warning systems available will help save lives.

While technological advancement and systemic changes can be complicated, IOOs are not operating in a bubble when it comes to the adoption of WZDx. Several IOOs are involved in a cooperative effort called the Work Zone Data Working Group, coordinated by the ITS JPO, to develop WZDx and work through challenges. With more than 100 representatives from state and local DOTs, the construction industry, auto manufacturers, and mapping companies, the Work Zone Data Working Group meets regularly and provides an opportunity for current and potential WZDx users to ask questions, share knowledge, and participate in specification development. The working group is open to all.

The hope is that through WZDx, work zone workers will feel safer and road users will be better informed. According to Wisconsin DOT, a crash occurred in a work zone every 3.5 hours in 2020. In the past five years, there have been more than 13,000 crashes in work zones, resulting in more than 5,000 injuries and 59 deaths in Wisconsin alone. Better data, information sharing, and promotion of initiatives, such as National Work Zone Awareness Week, coming up in April, will help spread the message that whether you’re a work zone worker, a commuter, or a commercial vehicle operator, everyone wants to get home safely.