Thursday, September 26, 2019

Using technology to help reduce worker risk

Robo flaggers help keep everyone safe and moving through construction zones

By Tamara Greenwell

Our highway workers do exceptional work and bring a wealth of experience maintaining our state's roadways – often alongside high-speed traffic. We're continually looking for new ways to use technology to reduce their risk, and that's where automated flagger assistance devices (AFAD's) come in.

Often called robo flaggers, these devices can be a great safety option in certain circumstances.
A robo flagger is controlled by a certified flagger, away from the hazards of vehicles in the work zone.

They are portable flagging devices with a crossing arm that drops down to block traffic when the lane is closed. Robo flaggers are often more visible than human flaggers and travelers tend to see them from a greater distance away, especially when it's raining or foggy. Most importantly, if a person driving through a work zone doesn't see the robo flagger, the equipment takes the hit rather than our highway worker.

We started using robo flaggers in 2002 on a trial basis, and they have been in continual use since 2004, though we only use them in specific locations. You can see robo flaggers in use along two-lane roadways where alternating one-way traffic operations are needed to safely perform highway preservation work like paving, guardrail installation or bridge work.
When the arm is down and STOP is displayed, traffic must wait.

How do robo flaggers work?

With a name like robo flagger, you might think the devices are automated. In fact, certified human flaggers operate the robo flaggers. The road worker is stationed off the roadway in a more protected location like a work vehicle or behind a guardrail. They're close enough to see traffic and the work zone to respond to traffic in real time, but far enough away that they safer in case of an incident.

If a driver fails to stop for the robo flagger stop arm, an alarm sounds to alert the crews working on the road, giving them time to try to get out of the way. This video shows how it works.
Rules of a robo flagger

Work zone safety rules still apply when a robo flagger is in place. Follow the directions as you would a human flagger as it's there to keep you, fellow travelers and the road workers safe. Stay behind the stop sign when the lights are red and the control arm is down and proceed only when the arm goes up AND the sign changes from STOP to SLOW. While it's never fun to have to stop on a highway, we'll get you moving again as soon as it's safe to do so.

And remember, while the robo flagger may be a machine, the road workers it is helping are not. So please always stay alert and focused, slow down and give them as much room as possible. While the robo flagger does increase safety, we're also counting on you to help keep the human crew safe.
When the arm is raised and SLOW is displayed, traffic can proceed with caution through the work zone.

The white SUV is performing an illegal maneuver by passing the pickup truck and robo flagger. All traffic
must wait until the arm is raised and proceed only when it's their turn.

We are seeing increasing numbers of drivers who stop at the robo flagger and then drive around the arm into the work zone. This is unsafe for our workers and also for the travelers going around the flagging machine.

There's a reason the arm goes down and stays down. Even if you can't see traffic coming the other way, a lot goes on behind the scenes, including some you won't see as you drive through the work zone. Keeping the lane free while the crossing arm is down helps keep everyone safe and lets us work more efficiently.  

Please be patient and wait for the arm on the robo flagger to raise just as you would wait for a human flagger to turn their flagging paddle. We're working to minimize travel delays, while maintaining a safer, more efficient transportation system for everyone.