Drivers, Welcome to the 21st Century!
"Computer, tell me what the road conditions and weather
will be like 60, 120, and 180 miles ahead of my present location".
Does this sound a little like a science fiction traveler in
the distance future on a highly automated highway system? Maybe,
but the ability to do just this exists today in the first rural
in-vehicle information system in the United States. Both North
Dakota and South Dakota travelers have enjoyed the ability to
use their cellular phones as "long range sensors"
since November 1, 1996. Upon telling the system where they are,
they receive a road condition and weather forecast report reaching
out in front of their current location along a state highway
or interstate that provides highway specific information in
their direction of travel. This system known as #SAFE, is the
nations first rural en-route traveler information system and
is provided as a part of the Advanced Transportation Weather
Information System (ATWIS).
Begun as a research project in July 1995 at the University
of North Dakota's Regional Weather Information Center, ATWIS
set out to demonstrate how current technologies in mesoscale
weather forecasting and analysis could be effectively merged
with telecommunications and road condition monitoring to produce
a safer and more efficient transportation system. This goal
was accomplished through two key objectives: an en-route traveler
information system for commercial and general travel, and information
designed to improve resource planning for highway maintenance
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 80 percent
of the road miles in the United States are located in rural
or small urban areas and account for about 60 percent of all
traffic fatalities. With these facts in mind, ATWIS was developed
to enhance the efficiency and safety along these rural highways
At issue in the Northern Great Plains are the extremes in weather
that are experienced every day. With wide-open spaces and vast
distances between cities and towns, weather and road information
can save lives and time. From summer temperatures in the 100s
to winter blizzards, driving in North Dakota and South Dakota
becomes a skill necessary to a very special way of life here.
For the first time in the history of North Dakota's interstate
system, the complete interstate system was closed not once but
twice during the first six months of operations for #SAFE.
Forecast and road condition reports provide drivers with up-to-the-minute
site-specific information about the road and short term forecasted
weather conditions for 27,000 plus road miles across North Dakota,
South Dakota, and Minnesota. Forecast and road conditions are
updated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Travelers access the
system by dialing # 7233 (Pound sign 7233) or (#SAFE) on their
cellular phones. After answering 3 or 4 questions about their
location and direction of travel, the system provides the latest
road/weather conditions available for approximately one hour
driving time utilizing Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology.
Each forecast is direction specific based on the traveler's
The ATWIS system also assists each state's Department of Transportation
by reducing maintenance cost through better planning. Each day
transportation district forecasts are prepared and e-mailed
directly to the 22 transportation districts for manpower and
equipment planning. Area and statewide forecasts are also available
over the World-Wide Web for viewing by the general public.
With approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
for the activation of a nationwide 511 traveler information
number, #SAFE Is undergoing a number of enhancements. World
Wide Web access and additional information on hotels, restaurants,
hospitals, rest stops, services, road restrictions, and height
clearances will be added as options during 2001.
#SAFE directly addresses a number of the questions the FCC
left the states to answer. Financing, continuity for the user
across a regional system, operating location or locations, and
cost were all considered during development. Now, completing
its fifth year of operation, #SAFE? is meeting the challenges
of providing a complete traveler information system within a
single state or a region of states by finally bringing ITS advancements
to the public.
For additional information about #SAFE or ATWIS, please contact
Mark Owens at 701-777-6519. To speak to highway personnel using
the maintenance portion of ATWIS, please contact Edwin Ryen
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