Assessment of Roadway Surface Conditions Using On-Board Vehicle Sensors: Final Report, Phase I

Real-time assessment of road surface conditions can be used to provide valuable safety information to travelers when roads are slippery (e.g., contaminated roads, heavy rain, black ice, etc.). Identification of these hazardous surface conditions using onboard vehicle sensors will warn drivers to proceed with caution on compromised road sections, thus reducing the risks of crashes. This information may also be used to provide data on roadway deficiencies such as winter weather impacts and wear loss of surface friction to highway agencies resulting in more efficient and less costly maintenance operations. The main objective of this study was to establish a real-time relationship between certain variables collected by vehicle onboard sensors and the roadway surface conditions. It is hypothesized that the relative difference in rotation between the driven and nondriven wheels may be used to assess pavement surface condition, and thus, traction. Front- and rear-wheel drive vehicles were tested to determine the relative rotational displacements of driven and nondriven wheels under dry, wet, snowy/slushy, and icy road surface conditions. These variables, among others, were supplied by the factory-installed wheel-speed sensors utilized by the vehicle’s Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). The rear-wheel drive vehicle was driven over two pavement sections of different grades and lengths to compare results. The front-wheel drive vehicle was driven on a single pavement section at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Smart Road facility. Both vehicles were driven under controlled conditions of constant speed, minimal steering, no braking, and with monitoring of onboard safety systems (e.g., ABS, stability control) as potential confounds. Time and position data were collected from a Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) installed in the vehicles. All these data were employed to calculate total distances traveled by the vehicles as well as ratios between distances traveled by driven and nondriven wheels in order to distinguish between different pavement surface conditions. The results of experimentation with multiple test runs conducted on roads conditions ranging from dry to icy showed a small but statistically discernable difference in the relative rotational displacement of driven versus nondriven wheels. Changes in the observed rotation ratios were clearly associated with pavement conditions known to produce poor traction (e.g., icy, slightly wet and dirty). That is, tests performed on slippery roads resulted in an increased change in the driven versus nondriven wheel rotational rates. Of the surface condition scenarios tested, icy, and slightly wet and dirty, and certain snow-covered pavement provided the least traction while clean dry, moderately wet, and other snow-covered pavement conditions provided better traction.

  • Record URL:
  • Corporate Authors:

    Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

    Blacksburg, VA  United States 

    Federal Highway Administration

    ITS Joint Program Office
    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    Department of Transportation
    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Authors:
    • Druta, Cristian
    • Alden, Andrew S
  • Publication Date: 2015-3


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Edition: Final Report
  • Features: Appendices; Figures; Photos; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 59p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01635079
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: FHWA -JPO-16-359
  • Contract Numbers: DTFH61-13-P-00017
  • Created Date: May 22 2017 2:46PM