Fog has been linked to a 70-vehicle pileup in Polk County that resulted in 30 injuries and to 11 fatal car accidents throughout the state in 2012. The University of Central Florida is working on a new study that could help make driving in the fog a lot safer.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) awarded UCF Engineering Professor Mohamed Abdel-Aty a $2 million grant to collect real-time traffic data from sections of I-4 in Polk County, Interstate 75 near Gainesville and a two-lane road in Tallahassee to determine traffic patterns when foggy conditions exist. He and his student researchers will work with Praxsoft Inc., an Orlando-based company with expertise in developing weather sensing technology.

Once the traffic and weather data is collected, the researchers will use the data to create simulated scenarios and put drivers through a high-tech driving simulator, housed in the Engineering II building at UCF. The team will study how drivers of various demographic profiles react to fog conditions and the advisory messages given to them on electronic message boards displayed on roads.

Abdel-Aty is the chair of the UCF Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering. He is also the deputy director for UCF’s Center for Advanced Transportation Systems Simulation, and is the editor of Elsevier’s research journal, Accident Analysis and Prevention. He is leading the “Real Time Monitoring and Prediction of Reduced Visibility Events on Florida’s Highways” study, which began this month and concludes in two years. It builds on previous research that FDOT also funded.

In research already conducted, the UCF team investigated the use of a combination of meteorological and traffic data in real time. The research involved identifying the unique characteristics – the “fingerprint” – of fog formation in Florida. Now the team will use radar and microwave sensors, and meteorological data from multiple sources to predict the occurrence of fog and to create a system to deliver real-time information to drivers.

Data from the three Florida locations, along with statewide data from highway accidents and airport weather, will also be used in the study. The team will also look at what other countries are doing about related roadway conditions.