Merge Distance Alert

Problem: Freeway drivers do not leave enough room for cars to enter the freeway at highway speeds, causing cars in the merge lane to brake more than needed, resulting in excessive traffic.

The Idea: Before each merge on the freeway in congested areas, have a sensor that gathers the speed and distance between cars in the merge lane. If a car is not leaving appropriate room to allow for an up and coming merge, a sign flashes a message indicating they need to “LEAVE ROOM FOR MERGE” (or a similar message). The more natural slowing of vehicles this creates would be less impact on the lane of traffic than a car having to come to a complete stop to allow space for the merging car.

Example of a bad merge (left) where the red car will need to stop to allow the blue car to merge, causing a traffic backup and potential collision.  The good merge solution (right) might be to warn the yellow car to slow down ahead of time, thus leaving room for the merging blue car, thereby curing the problem of sudden stops.

Example of a bad merge where the red car will need to stop to allow the blue car to merge, causing traffic. The solution where the yellow car slows ahead of time leave a gap for the blue car so a hard stop is not necessary.

Most drivers know they need to leave room for cars to merge in front of them, but when we are all wrapped up in traffic, after a long day at work, our frustration and common sense go out the window causing problems like this. This system would be a strong reminder to negligent drivers that they have a responsibility not just to themselves, but to sustain the fluid continuity of the highway system.

Key Design Concepts: The system would consist of two parts, the sensor and the sign. The sensor would likely use off-the-shelf technology to detect the speed and distance between cars. The sign could be either digital, mechanical or fixed, but the alert on the sign to the offending driver should be conspicuous both day and night. Given the system can be independently maintained and managed, not needing to be integrated into a central traffic management system, installation would likely be a low effort endeavor, where a small team of highway workers could likely install several in any given day. Initial deployments of this solution would likely only need to be alerting drivers during rush hour. An ideal system would be totally self contained (solar powered or wind powered?) further reducing the cost of installation and maintenance.

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