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Distracted Driving Gets Innovation Council’s Attention

Home News Stories from the Turnpike Distracted Driving Gets Innovation Councils Attention

With a continued increase in distracted driving, the PA Turnpike was looking for some way to get drivers' attention.

"We brought it to Innovation Council, and we even brought it to outside agencies,"" Assistant Manager of Traffic Engineering Justina Wentling said.

Wentling co-chairs the PA Turnpike's Innovation Council, and they have been trying to cut down on the number of distracted drivers who have been hitting the Turnpike's Truck-Mounted Attenuators, or TMAs. TMAs are Turnpike dump trucks with arrow boards that have a truck- or trailer-mounted crash cushion affixed to the back and stationed in the travel lane ahead of active work zones.

While TMAs are designed to absorb the impact of a crash, protecting the truck, its occupants, and the workers in the road ahead, distracted drivers have been hitting too many of TMAs lately, and no one could find a solution.

Then Tom Macchione came along with an idea that's simple and affordable - and it's been around for a very long time.

An air horn. A really loud one, too.

His idea was to mount an air horn on the back of each TMA. When a Turnpike equipment operator sees a distracted driver barreling at them, the operator can hit a button in their truck cab and send out a warning blast from the air horn that's as loud as a train whistle and bound to get the driver's eyes back on the road.

Macchione is the Turnpike's Manager of Traffic Engineering, and he brought his idea to the Innovation Council in September, and within two months, the first TMA-mounted airhorn had been installed.

Macchione spends a lot of his time thinking about what the Turnpike can do to make the jobs of its Maintenance and Construction crews safer, and with the rise of bad driving habits, it can be a challenge.

He thought about lights and sirens, but those were not permitted in the PA vehicle code, so he kept searching for ideas and looking at what other states were doing, and it was the Missouri DOT that first came up with the idea of an air horn. Here's a demonstration:

Macchione hopes to soon have an air horn on every Turnpike TMA.

Not only is it a big safety improvement, but it’s affordable, too, clocking in at $1,200 to $1,500 per horn. That includes the installation cost and a Go Pro camera mounted near the horn for video recordings. Compared to the $20,000 cost of replacing a TMA, or $200,000 for a truck, it will be a big savings, he pointed out.

The first air horn is being tested out at the Everett Maintenance Facility, where District 2 Maintenance Superintendent Erik Hickle said it’s working out great.

“If it saves one person from getting hit, it’s worth it,” Hickle said. “We used it at a pattern the other day, and the equipment operator who used it activated it twice and said, ‘I didn’t get hit, so it must work.’”

Here’s a demonstration of the horn installed at Everett with Equipment Operator Conner Gronborg.

TMA-Mounted Airhorn Demonstration

Hickle said it’s amazing to see how far safety improvements have come over the years, and he’s all for anything that keeps crews safe. Macchione is thrilled to see his idea in action.

“The goal is safer work zones for everyone, and I’m excited this is moving forward and to see it continue to reduce crash rates,” he said.

Wentling said one of the core principles of the Innovation Council is to implement ideas like this quickly.

“To see something submitted and heard by Innovation Council in mid-September, and here we are, two months later, to actually have one of these physically on a truck is definitely rewarding,” she said.