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Focusing on Work Zone Safety: Students Present Innovative Solutions

April 15, 2019 12:00 AM
By: Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT Bureau of Innovations

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As part of Work Zone Safety Week, PennDOT hosted the statewide judging of the second annual PennDOT Innovations Challenge, which asked students across Pennsylvania to create innovative approaches to persuade drivers to keep aware and be safe in work zones in Harrisburg.

The students from 11 high schools presented their ideas to PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards and a panel of PennDOT officials during the day April 10.

From left, PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards, Leela Pinnamaraju and Isha Das holding certificates.
CPennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards, left, presents winning certificates to the Innovations Challenge team from North Allegheny Senior High School, from left, Leela Pinnamaraju and Isha Das.

Leela Pinnamaraju and Isha Das, the team from North Allegheny High School, were named the winners. Their innovation was the "Safe Drive" app, which would allow users to see their work zone violations in real time. The app's interface would reward drivers with points for good behavior and penalize drivers for violations. They were mentored by faculty advisor Laura Prosser.

Drew Mashack and Tyler Wolfgang from North Schuylkill Jr./Sr. High School in PennDOT's Engineering District 5 and Caroline Cohen and Kevin Karatassos from Seneca Valley Senior High School in PennDOT's Engineering District 10 were named runners-up.  The North Schuylkill team proposed a comprehensive digital sign approach and the Seneca Valley team proposed deploying special flexible speed bumps to slow traffic.

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The winning team was awarded with a trophy, and $1,500 from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Traffic Safety Services Association. 

Other finalists were students from Farrell High School, Mercer County; Juniata High School, Juniata County; Northeast Bradford High School, Bradford County; Dallas High School, Luzerne County; Academy Park High School, Delaware County; Hershey High School, Dauphin County; Somerset Area High School, Somerset County; and Norwin High School, Westmoreland County.

The ideas ranged from using technology and enhanced signage to control and track speeds through work zones, to offering incentives with the use of tracking apps to reward safe driving and track infractions, to installing smart speed bumps, to physically narrowing work zones.

"I was so impressed by the thought put into the presentations, the research, the knowledge of modern technology and the use of technology to allow us to speak to young and new drivers and the general public," Secretary Richards said. She spent the day talking with each team, presenting them with certificates and posing for photos with them.

She added that the department will review the ideas and look for ways to continue to engage young people regarding transportation innovations.

Both the faculty advisors and students were thoughtful and impressed with their experience in the Innovations Challenge.

"Outstanding," said Kelly Stone, faculty advisor for the STEM team from North Schuylkill Jr./Sr. High School, who proposed personalized digital signs. "The (PennDOT) staff cared about the kids and their ideas. We'd love to come back. PennDOT did a great job."

Homer Kreinbrook, faculty advisor for the team from Somerset Area High School, who proposed using existing on-board technology to activate speed governors in vehicles to automatically slow them down in work zones, said it was the first time his school participated in the Innovations Challenge.

"I was impressed with the organization (of the event) and how well everything flowed," he said. "It was nice getting the kids to think on a technical level rather than just on classroom topics. Any time things are hands on, it's better."

Leela Pinnamaraju from the North Allegheny High School team said she has witnessed a work zone crash. "It was scary to watch," she said. "When we had the Innovations Challenge, we knew we could do something about it." 

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