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To supplement cell-phone tracking systems like Collocate, transportation agencies are also installing additional electronic toll tag readers along major highways. In some cities where toll booths are common, radio-frequency tags are attached to cars. As cars pass the reader, it detects the tag and subtracts a set amount of money from a prepaid account.

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These radio tags, or transponders, can be used to time vehicles between points in a freeway system. Unlike with a toll booth, drivers would not have to slow down for the reading device. They would merely drive past it. By analyzing a particular car’s time between two points, a computer can determine the car’s location and speed.

These tags and the cell-phone tracking systems will make it almost impossible for someone to travel undetected, which has raised privacy concerns about this new technology. Cell-Loc has said that it would not sell information about motorists’ locations to advertisers. Other companies have said that they are considering selling the information.

 

Caution: Accident Ahead

Once information is detected from cell phones, it has to be disseminated to motorists. In order for drivers to be routed around traffic, they must be informed of how fast the traffic is flowing, if it’s clogged or if there is an incident blocking traffic altogether. This is where the cell-phone service provider comes into the picture. The provider would send this information out to customers.

There are three ways to transmit information to motorists:

Collected information is fed into a large repository that can be accessed via a Web site. A map on the screen would show various roadways in green, yellow and red to indicate free-flowing traffic, slow traffic and clogged traffic, respectively.

Registered users, whose locations are known, are sent customized traffic reports based on the road and direction in which they are traveling. Systems will also advise users of alternate routes around congested areas.

Information is displayed on conventional electronic road signs.

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By getting information to the customers more quickly, developers believe that commuters will have enough time to react to these warnings and find another way around the congested areas. This would be an advance compared to how information is released today, which is primarily through radio or television news reports. By the time the radio and TV report an incident, it’s typically too late for most commuters to act on the information.

Cell phones and other digital devices are as commonplace as cars, so why not combine the two to solve the problem of congested highways? In the next few years, we will learn for ourselves whether these new technologies will make our commute to work easier or if our only hope is to find a way to stay home.

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