Law enforcement officers, firefighters, and paramedics are exposed to increasingly dangerous drivers while responding to roadside incidents. Recent examples from 2016 include a June 20 crash in Baltimore, Maryland, where a driver playing Pokémon GO slammed their car into a parked police vehicle. On July 21, another Pokémon GO player struck a police car in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. On July 29, an Ohio State Trooper was hit directly by a vehicle and thrown in the air in Geauga County. On August 1, a police officer in Springville, Alabama, busy directing traffic to protect firefighters putting out a car fire, was hospitalized after being struck by a car.
Whether distracted by the latest cell phone game, driving while intoxicated, driving carelessly, or in low-visibility scenarios, this trend of first responder roadside strikes unfortunately looks likely to continue. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG) treats these cases with high importance. Poor driving habits, along with low-visibility situations, will only present more unnecessary risks for the nation’s first responders, who often find themselves working on or on the side of the road. In the fall of 2015, FRG solicited a call for proposals from vendors to help mitigate this problem.
From the aforementioned solicitation, FRG awarded a 24-month project to Applied Research Associates, Inc., a company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to develop technology that aims to reduce dangerous vehicle strikes on first responders. The project will integrate several existing technologies into a system that can be easily deployed.
The Automated Driver and Responder Alert System (ADRAS) will provide approaching drivers an early audible warning of an upcoming emergency scene, instructing them to slow down or take other actions to avoid colliding with emergency personnel or apparatus. If a vehicle fails to slow down, the system will send an increasingly intense audible message and responders’ safety vests will illuminate to provide them with an initial warning of a possible threat and to make them more visible to motorists. If the vehicle continues to pose a threat, ADRAS will make the vests flash and sound a loud warning that can be heard and felt by responders. ADRAS combines driver notification, increased responder conspicuity and multi-modal warnings to first responders (visual, tactile and audible) to improve the safety of both the responders and motorists.
“While this effort is first and foremost about responder safety, the importance of this new technology extends to our communities at-large,” said Dr. Angela Ervin, program manager with FRG. “The objective of this effort is to seamlessly integrate cutting-edge technology into existing gear and equipment to reduce the number of responder and civilian fatalities.”