UDOT releases first crowd-sourced road hazard smartphone app

Thursday , November 13, 2014 - 6:01 PM

By CIMARON NEUGEBAUER

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah boasts the greatest snow on Earth, and now can also claim it is the first state in the nation to be able to allow its residents to report the white stuff falling from the skies in an exclusive road hazard reporting smartphone app.

The road weather specific reporting mobile application allows any registered citizen reporters, including the Utah Highway Patrol, to report highway surface conditions in real-time.

"We thought we would capitalize on the app novelty," Utah Department of Transportation traveler information manager Lisa Miller told the Standard-Examiner Thursday afternoon. “We are hoping (the app) will become a national standard soon and it starts with Utah, so we are exited for that.”

The only other state in the nation to do citizen-assist reporting for road hazards is Wyoming. However, because of Wyoming’s rural nature and reduced cell phone connectivity it doesn't use a smartphone app for reporting, it is only from a 511 hotline and the internet.

So far the app has been a success, Miller said, adding that the pilot-program phase was completed over the summer. Since then UDOT has heard from Iowa, North Dakota, Michigan, Nebraska, Kentucky and Idaho, that have expressed interest having UDOT share its program with them. 

“We are starting this season with over 500 citizen reporters this year,” Miller said.

Thursday marked the first snowfall of the season and citizen reporters can see their shared data on the UDOT app and website under the “Road Weather“ tab of the website.

"Prior to this kind of reporting, we did not have good (real-time) updated information," Miller said, adding that last year they saw a 99 percent accuracy rate from their trained reporters.

About 70 percent of reports coming in are the travelling public, while up to 15 percent are from UDOT employees who report conditions at least twice a day or as conditions change. The rest of reporters are made up of Utah Highway Patrol troopers, Miller said, adding that they hope to have more of them participate in the future, since they are the ”boots on the ground“ of traffic hazards. UDOT has also reached out to the HAM radio community and the National Truckers Association in hopes of getting a better snapshot of rural road conditions.

”We are trying to target people who drive on rural roads primarily to fill in the gaps where we don’t have road weather instruments or cameras,“ Miller said.

UDOT already has a sharing agreement with Waze, a crowd-sourced traffic update mobile phone application. Currently UDOT is sharing its information with Waze, but by next year UDOT hopes to integrate the Google-owned company’s information into its database. 

How to report with your mobile device

To become a registered member you must first download the application and take a three-minute training on reporting terms at http://www.udottraffic.utah.gov/Training/CitizenReporter/

During the training, it is stressed that reporters should never make any reports while operating their vehicle. Miller said the application has a time-stamp feature that allows drivers to report what they experienced during their commute, after they get into work or parking somewhere safe. She said they don’t want people pulling off the side of the road to make a report.

"We don't want people to pull over, get stuck and cause an accident," Miller said. ”We would rather not have a report than have someone report while driving.“

In May an amendment to the current distracted driving statute now makes it a primary traffic offense to input any data into a mobile phone. This rules out texting, dialing a number, picking a song for the stereo, surfing the web, etc. The law does not limit drivers from receiving data, such as talking on the phone if the call started prior to driving, or reading directions off a GPS device. The new law counts as a primary offense and violators of the law will be pulled over if they are spotted by police. Violators can expect to receive a $100 ticket and even steeper consequences if their phone use results in an accident.

Coming in early 2015 there will also be a click and fix mobile application that will be specifically for reporting burnt out highway lights or traffic signals, potholes in the road, and other road hazards that aren't weather related.

Contact reporter Cimaron Neugebauer 801-625-4231 or cimaron@standard.net Follow him on Twitter at @CimaronNews or on Facebook at facebook.com/SECimaron

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