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Traffic-tracking technology

April 06, 2007

In 1996, after a young woman in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle was killed as a result of high-speed police chase, The Herald-Mail wrote an editorial wondering why there was no technology available to stop a fleeing car.

After that editorial appeared, we were contacted by officials of STOPP - Solutions to Tragedies of Police Pursuits - who told us that what we were seeking did indeed exist.

It involved a system of valved spikes placed in the road in front of a fleeing car. When the car drives over it, the spikes stick in the tires, slowly deflating them.

We thought about technology again following Monday's fatal accident on Interstate 81, which forced closure of the road for four hours.

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When traffic slows to a crawl on any given roadway, unless there's a quick call from a motorist stuck in the jam, how can other drivers be alerted to avoid that area?

Officials of SpeedInfo Inc., a California company, believe they have the answer and are testing their invention along main roads in Washington, D.C.

Their device is a solar-power wireless radio sensor place along the side of the road.

The devices measure traffic speed twice a minute and measure it for traffic going both ways. According to The Associated Press, the company is giving the city its information for free now, but hopes to sell it to news sources that provide traffic information and to makers of in-car navigation systems.

The system is currently in use in San Francisco, where hundreds of sensors provide information at no charge on a Web site and through the phone system.

It's a system no one could have imagined 20 years ago, but it was also unthinkable then that a car crash could hold up traffic for hours. Any thing that helps drivers avoid such jams - and conserve expensive gasoline - can't be installed soon enough.

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