California to use AI to improve road safety, ease congestion

May 15, 2024

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is starting to explore using generative artificial intelligence to improve roads across the state.

The agency awarded three contracts to private companies to use the emerging technology to find solutions to address road safety and traffic bottlenecks.

“Caltrans has historically been an early adopter of new technology and working with these GenAI companies is another example of our forward-thinking approach,” Caltrans Director Tony Tavares said in a press release. “We are excited and optimistic of the ideas and solutions these vendors are working on in terms of improving safety on the highways and limiting gridlock in our busiest corridors.”

Caltrans manages more than 394,000 lane miles of road – 50,000 of which are highway and freeway lanes that are infamous for congestion, such as in the Los Angeles area. Across the state, there are more than 36 million registered vehicles.

With so many people driving on crowded highways, the number of fatal or serious-injury crashes rose each year from 2011 to 2019. In 2021, nearly 4,500 people lost their lives on California roads, including 1,309 pedestrians.

Caltrans’ initiative comes months after Gov. Gavin Newson issued an executive order that directed state agencies to perform risk-analysis, develop reports on potential benefits and establish guidelines for procuring AI technology.

Turning data into tools

Caltrans collects vast amounts of data from traffic sensors, cameras, incident reports and other third-party transportation data sources. Working with the selected private companies alongside the California Department of Technology, and Department of General Services, Caltrans will use the publicly available data to develop AI tools.

Before implementing any AI solutions in the real world, Caltrans will work with its partners in a virtual environment, or a “sandbox.” The sandbox is intended to provide a safe testing ground managed by the California Department of Technology to ensure cybersecurity, data governance and privacy policies are followed.

Artificial intelligence has become too widespread to ignore, with states across the nation looking to manage potential dangers while seizing new possibilities that the technology creates.

And because roadway safety is such a serious issue, it is also a promising testing ground for implementing the latest technology.

“With an average of 12 Californians dying on our roadways every day, we need to use every tool available to end the roadway crisis and reach our goal of zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2050,” California Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin said.

Photo by Simon Hurry on Unsplash

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