Siren system proposal earns engineering student group third place at national competition

The Traffic Control Device Challenge issued students the challenge to create a unique and feasible system to prevent wrong-way drivers.
Katy Harlan and Jacob Kaltenbronn pose in front of the poster for their traffic control project. courtesy of @MizzouEngineering via Twitter

Five MU seniors created a siren system plan to help prevent wrong-way driving, earning them third place in the Traffic Control Device Challenge and a trip to San Antonio, Texas.

Hosted by the American Traffic Safety Services Association and the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board, the Traffic Control Device Challenge took place in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 7-11.

In their fall 2017 Transportation Safety class, students were asked to follow the guidelines for the competition, but were not obligated to enter their projects. Seniors Elizabeth Farr, Robert Gallup, Katy Harlan, Jacob Kaltenbronn and Kaitlin Windsor proposed a siren system that would alert wrong-way drivers of their mistake.

ATSSA’s website states wrong-way driving is “when a vehicle enters a traffic stream travelling in the opposite direction and drives against the oncoming vehicles.” According to the Federal Highway Administration’s website, approximately 300 to 400 people are killed annually by wrong-way driver crashes.

There is already signage and illuminated warnings in place on some roads, but Harlan said the audible proposal in their project may help the driver notice their mistake sooner.

“Since most wrong-way driving is due to inattention, we thought that adding another sensory component to it would be very beneficial,” Harlan said. “[The group] got together and threw out ideas about what would get our attention [and] what would help us if we went the wrong way.”

The competition was based on a project proposal outlining the group’s device and addressing the judging criteria. The specifications included the ability of the plan to address the problem, the ease of understanding by the public, how applicable the device is to real-world situations and how practical the implementation of the project is, according to the Traffic Control Device Challenge participation guide.

20 finalists were asked to attend the TRB annual meeting and present their proposals. Three winners were named, with MU’s team receiving third place, earning them a $500 prize and a plaque.

Kaltenbronn helped represent the group with Harlan at the Traffic Control Device Challenge at the TRB annual meeting. Kaltenbronn presented the project to meeting attendees and judges for the competition. He said he was surprised by the results and would consider using the project in real-world applications.

“It just started as a class project so we didn’t expect it to go too far,” Kaltenbronn said. “When we were in [Washington,] D.C., we had a couple people that weren’t judges come up and say that they’d really like to see it implemented, so it’s something that we might end up pursuing.”

The top three teams, including MU, are invited to attend ATSSA's 48th Annual Convention & Traffic Expo in San Antonio, Texas, on Jan. 26-30 to display their posters and formally receive their award.

Edited by Morgan Smith |

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