ODOT tracking cellphone data for motorists' real-time traffic info

Location, speed data gathered - no personal info

ODOT tracking cellphone data

BEND, Ore. - (Update: More from ODOT on new system)

The Oregon Department of Transportation has unveiled new technology to track drivers in real time in Central Oregon, to help them make better decisions on what routes to take and which to avoid.

The Iteris Freeway Performance Measurement software utilizes cell phones to track drivers (in actuality, any passing cellphones) as they pass by various receiving devices placed along the highway. 

When a cellphone is turned on, it is always transmitting data to its user's carrier, so the tracking devices are using that same signal to track drivers in real time.

This technology gives ODOT a snapshot of traffic conditions all over Central Oregon, as well as how fast drivers are going on the roads, figuring an average speed, and thus determining the current drive times.

ODOT officials said they have seen a 20 percent increase in drivers on Central Oregon roads in the past two years.

That's a big leap for officials to wrap their heads around, as traffic numbers usually increase by around 2 percent over a two-year period.

With the new software, officials will be able to keep drivers better informed when it comes to traffic conditions. 

That will be particularly helpful during the busy summer visitor months and especially the period of the solar eclipse in late August, when traffic is expected to surge even more.

“When the eclipse comes along, what it will do is allow us to get real time, essentially, information out to the motorists who are trying to get to the best spot to see what’s going on,” ODOT Region 4 spokesman Peter Murphy said Thursday.

Murphy said the data will be used to warn or advise drivers of travel times and problems, likely through social media like Twitter and Facebook. That way, he said, drivers should be able to make informed decisions when it comes to traveling in Central Oregon, and the new technology will be extremely helpful in doing that. 

Murphy assured that while the "pinged" cellphones relay their location and speed to the system for ODOT to monitor, no personal information is tracked or stored.

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