Ontario Ministry of
There were no
collisions last winter on an accident-prone highway ramp where a
computerized system sprayed de-icing fluid on to the roadway.
It may be the closest
thing yet to a highway that thinks, and could put an end to
life-threatening black ice.
The Ontario government
says it has all but eliminated weather-related crashes on a major highway
ramp after installing the first system in Canada that automatically senses
weather conditions, decides if a freeze-up is coming and triggers jets of
de-icing fluid when needed.
Neither humans nor
rust-inducing salt trucks need get involved.
The province has tested
the $300,000, space-age gizmo at one bridge and is looking at using it
elsewhere. Other provinces have talked to Ontario about the technology.
"When a driver is
driving down the road and they hit black ice, the cars start fishtailing
and they lose control. They can be quite significant incidents," said
Brad Clark, Ontario's Minister of Transportation.
"If we can have a
system where the black ice doesn't develop, that would be the goal across
the province and we would have far safer highways during the winter
A lawsuit judgment
delivered last month highlighted the danger to drivers and the onus on
governments to keep the structures safe.
The Ontario Court of
Appeal found the province liable for a 1988 accident in which a woman lost
control of her car on black ice as she crossed a bridge on Highway 401,
skidded into oncoming traffic and suffered severe brain damage.
The court ordered the
government to pay $4-million in damages after finding that road crews
ignored weather reports that called for frost.
The new FAST (Fixed
Anti-icing Spray Technology) system, based on ones pioneered in Europe, was
installed last fall on a trial basis at the interchange between Highways
416 and 401 in eastern Ontario.
Sensors imbedded in the
pavement gather information on weather conditions and relay it to a
computer on site. The computer analyzes the information and makes a
decision based on the current and expected conditions. If freezing is
anticipated, the computer triggers nozzles to spray a de-icing substance on
to the surface.
The 416-401 ramp was
the site of 14 accidents during the winter of 1999-2000. With the system in
place, there were no collisions this past winter.
of Canada have reported reductions in weather-related accidents of at least
50% as a result of the systems.
two in 1998 and has found the technology very effective in making roads
safer and freeing up crews for other duties, said Steve Chizmar, a
spokesman for the state's Department of Transportation.
The system could also
lessen the amount of salt that is dumped on the roads, meaning less
corrosion of concrete and steel, Mr. Clark said.