May 11, 2021 4:53:51 PM / Brooke Loeffler /

Road Surface Temperature Sensors

Have you ever wondered what all those poles and devices are, spaced along the roadway? Modern roads use an assortment of sensors to monitor a wide range of public safety data, such as: traffic patterns, road congestion, pavement temperature, moisture levels, etc. Let’s take a look at a specific family of sensors used during icy conditions.

Road Surface Temperature Sensors

What Are Road Surface Temperature Sensors?

Road surface temperature sensors are a commonly used tool in areas that experience ice and snow. They use infrared lasers directed at the road surface to measure the conditions of the roadway.

They can monitor:

  • Moisture levels
  • Type of precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, hail)
  • Pavement temperature, etc.

This data is then fed into an algorithm to calculate the coefficient of friction for that roadway. Click here to learn more about friction, road traction, and how these measurements are calculated. Road data can also be combined with other data to provide a more complete picture of overall driving conditions.

Teconer and Vaisala road sensors: Photos courtesy of teconer.fi and vaisala.com

*Photos courtesy of Teconer.fi (left), Vaisala.com (right)

Road Weather Information System (RWIS)

RWIS is a centralized hub where private sensor vendors (such as Vaisala and Teconer) send their road data. Here, it is combined with atmospheric and water level data to calculate “nowcasts” and forecasts of driving conditions for a certain area. This information is extremely useful to road management agencies.

It helps teams:

  • Plan winter storm responses
  • Anticipate unsafe road conditions
  • Know when to apply anti-icing treatments
  • Mobilize the correct number of fleet vehicles
  • Dispatch snow fighting teams in a timely manner
  • Target most affected areas

Mobile Sensors

Some organizations also mount these sensors onto fleet vehicles so they can cover more ground. This allows road managers to see how conditions vary across certain areas, identify vulnerable spots, and re-calibrate their snow fighting approach. 

Safety and Financial Benefits of Road Sensors

Using sensors to calculate road friction levels is not only important for public safety, it can save municipalities a lot of money. Over-applying deicing treatments wastes resources, stretches personnel hours, and can also put unnecessary strain on the environment. Friction sensors help teams target ice and snow instead of broadly applying the same deicing strategy to an entire area.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) discovered that using sensors to calculate road friction saved them $180,000 in a single winter! Click here to read more about how sensors saved lives and money for CDOT.

Ice Slicer’s Road Sensor Partnerships

Ice Slicer is proud to partner with snow fighters and road safety organizations to save lives, and give teams the best deicing tools possible. We are teaming up with Montana State University, The Western Transportation Institute, and the Utah Department of Transportation to take road friction testing even further.

Using fixed and mobile vaisala sensors, we are helping teams conduct real-world tests on road surfaces to provide side by side comparisons for different road treatment products. These tests will help organizations see how products perform under their local weather conditions instead of just in a lab.

Here is an example of a real world, side by side friction test conducted in Fargo, North Dakota.

Side by side friction test under real world storm conditions

As you can see, this test was conducted under natural winter storm conditions. Ice Slicer returned Fargo’s roads to safe traction levels 3.5 hours faster than treated white road salt, and with 40% less product! Click here to learn more about Ice Slicer’s natural benefits and high performance.