An Observation!

This is as an opportunity being presented to Montana. Montana has adopted statutes that are in clear conflict with controlling federal law. Two things we know for sure, Montana under Title 23 is required to conduct safety reviews on all its highways and the mission of the Montana Highway Patrol was changed from one of safety, to one focused on false safety promises and revenue generation. Compliance oversight will require new programs to be instituted and new complying laws to be passed. If safety truly is your objective, this presents a great opportunity to include needed agency mission enhancements with contemporary technology into programs that really would improve safety for all.

The Technology:

GPS and mapping software has become ubiquitous in today’s society. Every section of public highway in the nation has been mapped in an easily accessible database. Every new cell phone in the near future will be required to be equipped with e911. The towers in high traffic areas will be the first to be equipped while in rural areas this technology will trail until funding can be secured. The list of GPS users is growing daily: aircraft, many cars it is now standard equipment, hikers, sports enthusiast, hunters and the list goes on that have GPS equipment In short, GPS is becoming the universal locator, a locator that will take you directly to the target within feet, anywhere in the world regardless of weather, day or night.

To take full advantage of this technology now and in the future, a recommended practice would be to record the GPS coordinates of every traffic control device, traffic citation and accident location for entry as common database denominator. For this and other applications, this would be a very helpful tool. Because data storage is as it is today, digital images and voice notes could also be easily attached and kept too.

The costs of the equipment and computers to run this have dropped precipitously. Coming up with the methods and procedures to enter and collect the GPS coordinates is the issue at hand, not the hardware.

MDT Safety Team:

Put together a special team to review every section of highway in the state on a 5-year cycle. This team would collect all roadway physical characteristics and traffic control device application data by GPS location, size, materials and measured retroreflectivity with annotated application notes.

Technology has come a long way and a single team each day could quickly place and pickup a significant numbers of monitoring stations collecting 24 hour data for speed, headway and vehicle classification (Nu-Metric’s Model 97). The locations where the data is collected need to be marked on the study too. In addition, by using a two-vehicle team it could survey, verify and mark locations (via GPS) where deficiencies are found or devices are recommended for the district maintenance teams to address. There are several commercially available systems where the two vehicles can quickly verify and mark sight distance for no passing zones. The team could also be equipped with ball bank or other such equipment to grade curve severity for marking purposes.

The following chart from the Idaho DOT is used to illustrate why it is best for 2 vehicles work in tandem.

vertical curve

The lead vehicle has a target mounted at eye height and the following vehicle marks the distance for the prevailing speed found at that location where the no passing zone should begin or end. By marking this with GPS, the pavement striping equipment can be programmed to start or stop the exclusion zones and the maintenance team knows where to place the signs.

horizontal curve

Anybody reviewing the site would have a clear view of conditions as found. As accident and citation data comes in, the engineer now has a tangible reference to see if there is a pattern that further modification to the traffic control devices may correct. Or if a subsequent survey finds higher speeds or the standards change, the devices that may need modification are readily apparent.

This effort would be relative low in cost, but would provide measurable improvements in safety because knowledge is power when solutions are sought.

MHP Mission:

It is time for a paradigm shift of all western state highway patrols, particularly ones like Montana. It is time to shift from a fleet of 140 mph passenger sedans developed to chase people purportedly wasting fuel or as a tool to be used by these highwaymen assigned to collect revenue for local governments - to a force that is equipped to render aid to motorists as its primary mission – to truly Protect and Serve.

There will always a need for a patrol enforcing the general laws on our highways, that being said, there is a greater need for incident first responders that really can make a difference, especially in that first critical medical golden hour. There is also a great need for general assistance on the highways too, that all highway users would greatly appreciate and welcome.

As anyone knows who travels western highways, especially during the winter, the first vehicle on the scene may be there for a relative long time before specialized assistance may arrive. This proposal assures that the agency that is most likely to arrive at the scene first be equipped and trained to meet this mission.

There are several configurations of vehicles that can fulfill the patrol requirements and at the same time within a minute of arrival: provide scene lighting, traffic control, medical response, rescue equipment and fire suppression… to lesser more common assistance needs to: jump starts, water, blankets or enough fuel to make it to the next town. A welcome sight indeed!

Without going into a detailed breakdown, such a vehicle could cost effectively be configured and equipped to fulfill this task and be used for daily patrol too. Adding GPS coordinates to all MHP activity as well would significantly improve their effectiveness and overall public safety.

The Highway Safety Initiative:

Nothing is free; there would be capital expenditures, training and staffing.

I’m not sure about Montana’s laws in regards to fuel taxes, but it seems to be the fairest method. A small fuel tax could pay for all aspects of this Highway Safety Initiative. You may be required to find another way, but a fuel tax would only tax those that are the primary beneficiary, visitors and residents alike proportional to use. There may also be some federal grants that may be applied for here too.

MDT: Would be allocated monies to staff and equip the safety team and perform the indicated roadway safety reviews and improvements. They would also coordinate the database and system compatibilities.

MHP: would be provided with a stable funding source, not dependant on productivity of citations issued, but rather on sufficient staffing to provide reasonable response times and service levels. The officers would be paid to be trained; with salary enhancements for being EMT certified and more for Paramedic certification.

Emergency Medical Services: A potion of these funds could also supplement funding of equipment for local volunteer responders too. The intention here is that any state or county employee who as part of their job travels the public highways. If they wish to apply to participate in the program, the state would pay for tuition for EMT classes and supply them a first responder medical kit to be carried in their vehicle.

This Initiative through technology would be a proactive effort that would not only reduce accidents; it would save many lives, reduce injury complications while greatly adding to the general welfare of the public. Win Win for all!

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