This week, the Michigan Senate’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard testimony on legislation that would allow for the use of safety cameras to monitor the speeds of vehicles driving through road construction projects.
Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director of External Engagement at the Governors Highway Safety Association, returns to the podcast to tout the effectiveness of the technology in other states.
Later, Gregg Brunner, chief engineer and chief operations officer at the Michigan Department of Transportation, explains why he supports the legislation and his takeaway after viewing a demonstration of the technology along a busy freeway.
Michigan could join 17 other states employing the technology to lower speeds in work zones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
According to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, more than 100,000 crashes occurred in work zones in 2020, resulting in an estimated 44,000 work zone injury crashes and 857 work zone crash deaths.
From a report on the topic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "The relationship between driving speed and the risk of a crash and/or fatality is well established. In 2019, 26 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities occurred in crashes in which at least one driver was speeding."
Hello, welcome to the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast. I'm Jeff Cranson. This week we made some progress with a couple of bills that came out of the Michigan House that would enable the use of automated enforcement or I guess we should say safety cameras, as one of my guests likes to call them which would enable the use of technology to track people speeding through work zones, which has become an increasing danger and led to serious crashes and deaths of workers doing the road work. First I spoke with Pam Shadle Fisher, who is the Senior Director of External Engagement for the Governor's Highway Safety Association in Washington DC. She's been on the podcast before and offers a national perspective on the success that other states have had using this technology to slow down people driving through work zones and protect the workers. And then I spoke with Gregg Brunner, who is the Chief Operations Officer at MDOT and has a lot of history with work zone safety and various initiatives and has been very involved in the research and viewing the demonstrations, the technology and how it would work. So again Pam Shadle, who is the Senior Director of External Engagement for the Governor's Highway Safety Association and has spoken on the podcast before about safety and all the things that are going on that her organization is doing and ideas that they're finding are helpful techniques that various states are using. It's a never ending battle because, as we've discussed many times, even as we find ways to make the roads safer for the drivers and the workers and everybody else, we find new ways to be distracted and speed and do other things that cause these crashes. Pam, thank you for taking time to be here.Pam Shadle Fisher:
Thanks for having me back on, Jeff.Jeff Cranson:
So the reason I want to talk to you this week is because we finally had a hearing in the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee here in Michigan on a couple of bills that would enable automated enforcement and work zones I think the term you use is safety cameras, which I really like. The sponsors of the bills tried to make it very clear in the committee meeting that this is not a revenue grab. This is not a slippery slope. They're not trying ultimately to get automated enforcement everywhere, on every road. This is very targeted to work zones, where we got a lot of work going on in Michigan and most states do, between our own bonding plan and the IJA, and we've got workers in more vulnerable positions than ever. So could you talk a little bit more about what we've shared in the past and what maybe you know since we last spoke about automated enforcement and how it's working in other states?Pam Shadle Fisher:
Yeah, I mean I think people have to understand that it is not designed to replace traditional enforcement. It's really designed to supplement, because we can't put a police officer in every work zone, on every corner, on every roadway. We just don't have that kind of capacity, we don't have that resource in terms of manpower. And so this technology can be used, and used very effectively, if done right, to make a difference out there. It can change behavior, it can get people to slow down, and when they slow down and are realizing what's going on, it really does result in a reduction in crashes and, of course, injuries and fatalities. I mean, we've seen this and I point to Pennsylvania as a really good example. Michigan is looking at this to use in work zones. Pennsylvania has had a pilot in place. They're coming up on the fifth year anniversary and the pilot actually needs to be either renewed or extended, if you will, or simply become something in statute that says this is an ongoing program. But they've had a five-year program and they've made some mistakes and they acknowledge that. But they have also worked very hard to put out a program that is based on the data, that is very transparent to the public. They do regular updates and reports sharing what's going on. Bottom line is, they've seen tremendous reductions in crashes in these work zones and that has resulted in those people in those work zones, the folks who are really very, very vulnerable. They're essentially, you know, their pedestrians, if you really want to think about it. They're able to get home each day and get back to their families, and so you know, I think we have to understand that that's what this technology is really about. It's about, you know, changing behavior so that all road users, regardless of whether they're in a vehicle or not, you know, are okay at the end of the day, because, you know, clearly the data does not show that that's what's happening in our country. So the good news is that we're starting to see activity happening. The IIJA, the infrastructure bill that was put into, was passed and assigned into law by the Biden administration I guess it's almost a year and a half now does allow for state highway safety offices to provide some funding its federal dollars for the use of this technology, safety cameras and work in school zones, and that's spurring some activity In California. Governor Newsom recently, just recently signed legislation that would allow some major cities San Francisco, san Diego, Oakland, I think, there's like maybe almost 10 cities to actually use this technology to address the speeding problem in in their communities. And I was just in California at their first traffic safety conference in a number of years and I was facilitating a session on pedestrian safety and I brought this issue up and I asked is it anybody here from any of those cities? And a woman stood up and said I'm from San Francisco and we are so pleased that this is happening because she works, she has a towing business in her state and she said my folks who are out there responding to, you know, folks who need emergency roadside assistance, are really putting their lives on line every day and we need to slow people down, we need people to understand. You know how important this is. So they're using, you know, the cameras for speed purposes on a number of roadways. So that's happening. The city of Richmond, the state of, I should say first, V irginia has enabled legislation to allow for safety cameras in speed and work zones and we've been working with folks in Richmond, Virginia, and they are just procured cameras and they're going to put them in their school zones and it's part of a multi-disciplinary approach they're taking that's including infrastructure changes and it's including education and outreach to the community as well as this enforcement and traditional enforcement, and we know it takes a variety of things. It takes a comprehensive approach. So I think you know the bottom line is we're starting to see things changing a bit and we're starting to see more recognition that we have to supplement traditional enforcement and we have to do more to use a proven countermeasure like this. Use it equitably, make sure that the community is involved in understanding why this is being used and and and kept to date on how and how it's impacting. But we need to use these tools to save lives because, you know, we can't just keep doing the same things. We know this works and and we need communities to understand that there is an opportunity here to leverage it and to really make a difference. So, again, everybody gets home safe at the end of the day.Jeff Cranson:
Well to that point, about other uses of the same kind of technology. Our governor, governor Whitmer, in 2021 signed a bill that would allow the schools to put cameras on the buses, if they didn't already have them, and use those photos to issue citations. That didn't seem to be a problem. I guess you know you can understand people think well, that's ridiculous. You know, we've got to protect the kids. I don't know why there'd be any distinction between protecting, you know, school students and protecting workers in a work zone, so you'd think that these two things would be linked together and it would be easy. Talk about Pennsylvania. I guess, and some of the things uou mentioned that they learned some things along the way. What are some of the lessons that they learned in their pilot?Pam Shadle Fisher:
Well, you know, I know for sure that they certainly recognize that some of the cameras were not necessarily calibrated correctly, and that's a really critical piece of this. The cameras have to be calibrated and checked on a regular basis. So they had to do some work with that and they found there was a discrepancy. And so, you know, a number of citations were thrown out. They said you know, we need to do that. They acknowledged that and they were very clear about it. You know they didn't hide it, they didn't make it a secret, they talked very clearly about it. They also, you know, they do move the cameras around based on volumes and so forth, and they're very clear on signage saying this is an active work zone. So there is technology being used and I think that's really important is for folks to understand that this is not designed to be a getcha, a catcha kind of thing. It's really designed to hopefully get people to say, okay, you know, the speed is this, I need to slow down, and really it's about behavior change. I mean, that's what we're really driving for. The goal of these programs is to not issue any citations. You know that's what we're aiming for. I mean it sounds silly when we think about it. But in our business we really want to put ourselves out of business. We want everybody to behave out there on the road so bad things don't happen. And that's really the end game, for, you know, these technology cameras, these, you know, the safety cameras is to get everybody to comply so that over time you may not need them anymore. And they really do. You know they can be incredibly impactful and they, you know, the numbers have gone down. So, and that's one of the other things, when we talk about this with the folks in Pennsylvania and I just facilitated a panel discussion with one of the folks who's running that program and he said that is our goal is to not need these cameras, to change the behavior, to change the safety culture, so that people, you know, take initiative and say, oh, I'm in an active work zone, now I see the speed limit, I know it's dangerous, I got to slow down, right, I got to slow down for myself and I got to slow down for everybody else on the roadway. So that's, you know, that's kind of the end game. But you know, pennsylvania and everybody, I think we can all learn from this. I think the other thing that's vitally important about this technology and I said it briefly for just a minute ago is that you know when you do this, if you're going to use this technology, the community has to be engaged in the discussion right up front. Why is this technology being used? Is there anything else that could be used? And maybe other things have been tried and they haven't been successful, and so we feel this is, you know, something we need to move to. The public needs to be engaged on the front end and then kept informed throughout the process. How is the technology? You know how's it going? Are you noticing, you know, improvements? If it doesn't do anything, then you know it may not be the appropriate countermeasure, but you have to really engage the public from the get-go and you have to make sure that these cameras are placed Now you know, in an active work zone. I think it's pretty self-explanatory. You need it there because you're trying to protect folks If there have been incidents where you know there's been problems. That's why it's being used School zones. We want to protect kids. We don't want people speeding through school zones. We want to make sure that in that school zone again, that it's placed in a way that the public is aware of what's going on, that you've tried other countermeasures and they haven't necessarily worked and you feel this is important. So that transparency piece and that public engagement piece, right from the beginning, is critical, critical to the success and the acceptance of the technology.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, well said, I think that you're right. To anybody that I know in the business of advocating for safety would say, yeah, I'd be just fine if I put myself out of business. So I appreciate that sentiment. Well, thank you, Pam, for taking time to talk a little bit more about this. I hope we're getting close to the finish line in Michigan and can make a difference for the workers next year. We've got a lot of work that'll be going on, just like we have the past couple of years. Again, because of added investment here, plus the IIJA, I mean, it becomes an issue. People wonder about the time it takes and inflationary costs and construction. Well, part of that is finding good people, and the more dangerous the work becomes, the harder it is to find good people. So that's all a factor in this.Pam Shadle Fisher:
It certainly is. I mean, there's no doubt about it. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Michigan will get this through and you'll be able to use this technology to save lives.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, I appreciate that. Thanks again, Pam. We'll talk to you again soon. Take care now, we'll be right back. Stay tuned.Pam Shadle Fisher:
Know, before you go, head on over to MiDrive to check out the latest on road construction and possible delays along your route. For a detailed map, head over to Michigan. gov/Drive.Jeff Cranson:
Again, I'm with Greg Brunner, who is the Chief Operations Officer at MDOT and is a veteran of the department and has done a lot with Work Zone Safety over the years. It's a particular passion of his. He got to observe some demonstrations of the automated enforcement technology, or safety cameras as our previous guest likes to call them. Gregg, could you talk a little bit about you know the need for this and what you drew from the demonstrations that you saw?Gregg Brunner:
Sure, first off, thanks again for having me, Jeff. I appreciate it and, as you know, I love to talk about safety. It's something I'm very passionate about in the department and kind of making a difference for the safety of all of our roadway users. So last year we actually did a pilot with a vendor in an active Work Zone over by Grand Rapids where we did a demonstration to display this technology and how it works, not necessarily from the citation standpoint, but just overall, how it collects data, identifies speeders or people speeding through the Work Zone and then also captures their license plate. And the way it's kind of set up or at least in the bill that's moving through legislation right now is number one. We have to make folks aware that it is an automated Work Zone enforcement work zone. So, there will be signs out to notify that and as a result of this demo anyway, we didn't have those signs out again for this because it was just kind of a pilot to show how it works. So the way that system or the technology actually works is this particular vendor had a van that was up-fit with all the technology in terms of the radar guns to capture speeds of vehicles going through, as well as cameras to take pictures of the license plates and then the ability to identify and read those license plates. So what would do is it had a computer monitor in there where you could actually watch speeds of vehicles actively driving right by you in a Work Zone. You know, some of those were, once we're out in a Work Zone, 80 miles an hour driving right next to you, which again I feel for anyone that's out in a Work Zone on a daily basis it has to deal with that routinely. But what it would do is capture those speeds and then the license plate itself and then compile them into a database. With that then they were able to not only show statistics of the number of speeders through the Work Zone on any given day or timeframe but then they would utilize that data back at the office to go through and actually potentially write citations as a result of those people speeding through the Work Zone. So again, when you think of normal Work Zone enforcements you just think of kind of a state police trooper sitting out there and then pulling people over as they go through the work zone, which again can cause definitely enforcement and people to slow down, but also it takes them out of harm's way, with other people driving as well. So the biggest thing we didn't know as part of the pilot is that everything seemed to work smoothly as they were out there and it'll look good. And beyond that, the biggest eye opener to me, anyway as an engineer, is just the compliance that we're able to see when we started talking with other states that have incorporated this technology into their work zones, because when we look at it, we aren't necessarily looking at it from an enforcement standpoint. We were looking at it more from a speed compliance standpoint is what kind of the goal with all of this is. Is that people everyone out there drives the posted speed through our work zones to not only keep themselves safe but the workers that are out there. So, again, based on what we saw, it looks like very promising technology and again, that has been demonstrated in multiple other states to be effective.Jeff Cranson:
So yeah, previous guest Pam Shadle of the Governor's Highway Safety Association, really underscored that point, that that nowhere any of the states that are doing this with tremendous success and success measured by what they've seen in terms of the speeds being reduced in the work zones and the lowering of the number of crashes that it's not about generating revenue, it's not about trying to write tickets, and she'd be just fine if people that do what she does were put out of business because we got to the point where you didn't have these kinds of crashes anymore. You know, sadly, we know that day is not coming soon, but I was out there too when we were out on M6, east of Grand Rapids and saw that demonstration and I think what really hit me while we were all well off the road, several feet even from the shoulder, seeing the speeds of those cars going by, and we've talked about various analogies and you know what, if in your workspace, your office, you know, cars and trucks flew by at 80 miles per hour in front of you, you know how would you ever get used to that?Gregg Brunner:
Yeah, and I know when I talk to our folks that are out there working, that's their number one concern in terms of safety is just people speeding by or not paying attention. So again, it's tough when you're out there doing it. And again, we can do at least on the MDOT side of things we can do a lot to improve and we have done a lot to improve safety of our work zones in terms of different devices and other things that we put out there. Where we really struggle is with the speeding through our work zones. And again, when you start looking at overall work zone crashes and in particular those that have serious or fatal crashes, the numbers we're seeing in Michigan is about 40% of those serious or fatal crashes are a result of speeding through work zones. So again, the goal here is if we can get drivers to comply with the posted speed limits, all traveling at the same speed, we can have a significant impact in traffic safety through our work zones and kind of helping us towards our overall goal of towards zero deaths on a road.Jeff Cranson:
So that's a good point, and I think you've talked about this before too, and it's it's a cliche, but it's a cliche because it's true, and that's that that isn't just about protecting the workers, it's also about protecting the drivers.Gregg Brunner:
Correct. Again, everybody's important when it comes to our roadways, whether you're out there working or driving on them through our work zones. Again, every one of those people as somebody's family, friend or loved ones. So we're doing what we can to protect those folks so everybody gets home safely.Jeff Cranson:
And so, just with your team, in the event that this does pass the legislature and the governor signs it, in terms of implementation, you would look at, you know, some targeted construction sites like the really high volume type projects, right?Gregg Brunner:
Correct. So what we do, assuming this were to pass, as we'd set up a contract that would be open to vendors then there are multiple vendors that do this type of activity in different states and then target specific work zones throughout the state, like you had mentioned, typically freeways that are higher speeds, high volumes and again with the goal of bringing not enforcement but compliance for folks driving through them for speeds. And I think a big thing that are misconception with this is that it's a money making effort, which is definitely not the case in the way the legislation is set up now. It's actually set up that the treasurer will establish a work zone safety fund with any citations that are issued through this, and so what that will do is that fund can only be utilized for different work zone safety initiatives, whether that be to pay for kind of this vendor to continue doing what they're doing with automated enforcement, or for local or state law enforcement to do work zone enforcement. So again, it's not not a money grab here. Again, anything any citations collected through this would be aimed at further work zone enforcement. So overall it's it's a good thing to keep our folks safe.Jeff Cranson:
Yeah, absolutely, and I think that's a good point to make. About the money, and I know that representative Snyder, sponsoring one of the two bills that would enable this, made that point when he talked to the Senate Committee on Tuesday that the any of the funds would be used just to administer the program. It's not a money grab and if, if it's enough just to administer it, that would be a good thing. Well, anything else you want to say, Gregg, I mean this would come on top of, like you said, other things that have been done the past few years. You and your team, the work zone safety team, are never going to stop looking for new ideas and borrowing from other states, things that are effective, things that seem to be working, and you think, in the context of this and some new regulations for the use of concrete barrier, I mean you feel like we're going in a good direction. Do you feel optimistic that we can start to make a dent in these numbers?Gregg Brunner:
Yeah, I'm definitely optimistic and I know that we're headed in the right direction here, and unfortunately, though, it feels like our jobs never done until we get those numbers down to zero. So we have some very passionate folks that work in our work zone area that are continuing to drive safety to seeing what we can do, both through our own innovations or looking at other states and what what's working there. So, again, it's not just us, it's a partnership with our industry as well, through our work zone safety task force efforts, and what can we do to partner to drive this number to zero? Because, again, that's something important to everyone and shouldn't just be those that are involved with work zones or driving through them. It should be for the state because, again, these are for everybody's family, friend and loved ones out there. We want everyone to get home safely and, again, that's that's the name of the game with this is we're just pushing for safety to keep everybody, everybody out of harm.Jeff Cranson:
No, I'm glad you made that point because, yeah, industry is working really hard on this to they've been lobbying lawmakers for a long time. The Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association, which represents the contractors, has been been totally in on this the demonstrations, understanding the technology and making the case. At Tuesday's hearing, we heard both from a laborer with a firm that experienced his loss of workers in recent years and we heard from the operating engineers. 324, the heavy equipment operators on construction jobs across the state. They testified in favor of it too. So I feel like there's there's some momentum, so let's let's hope for the best. Thanks, Gregg, for taking time to talk about this again.Gregg Brunner:
No problem, I appreciate you having me, Jeff. Thank you.Jeff Cranson:
Like to thank you once more for tuning into Talking Michigan Transportation. You can find show notes and more on Apple podcasts or Buzzsprout. I also want to acknowledge the talented people who helped make this a reality each week, starting with Randy Debler, who skillfully edits the audio, Jesse Ball, who proves the content, Courtney Bates, who posts the podcast of various platforms, and Jacke Salinas, who transcribes the audio to make it accessible to all.