Fight winter driving coercion with traffic cameras

Traffic cameras are an overlooked tool that can save truckers their freight and their lives.

October 2020

Tyson Fisher

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Winter is coming, and that usually means delays in freight because of inclement weather. Determining whether or not it is safe to drive can be difficult. However, a traffic management system like that in place in the Kansas City metro area can make that decision easier and should be in a trucker’s navigation toolbox.

Cold-weather months really put a driver’s skills to the test. Truckers have to drive through slick conditions while operating a large vehicle weighing tens of thousands of pounds. Often, road conditions are not suitable for driving. Sometimes, local or state governments will shut down an interstate for commercial vehicles, making the decision whether to drive a no-brainer.

But what about those situations where there are no official restrictions? Despite what many dispatchers may claim, the decision to drive in inclement weather is ultimately the driver’s. Although most state departments of transportation have a real-time traffic map, it can still be difficult to ascertain how good or bad the roads really are.

Hundreds of cameras in one city

For truckers who drive through the Kansas City area, there is a tool available that will not only reveal what the roads are really like, but also offers drivers visual evidence to submit to a stubborn dispatcher who may think otherwise: KC Scout.

According to its website, KC Scout is Kansas City’s bistate traffic management system, designed to lessen traffic jams by improving rush-hour speeds, increasing safety by decreasing the number of rush-hour crashes and improving emergency response to traffic situations by clearing incidents quickly and safely. Scout manages traffic on more than 300 miles of continuous freeways in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area.

The collaboration between the Missouri and Kansas departments of transportation sounds like any other DOT program. However, there is a nice hidden gem accessible to the public: cameras.

In fact, there are about 400 cameras monitoring the highways in the Kansas City area. Many Kansas City residents check the cameras to see whether or not they need to reroute to and from work. However, truckers can use the cameras to see what the road conditions are like in real time.

KCScout.net allows anyone access to live video streams of traffic. Simply click on any of the camera icons on the map, and the live video feed pops up. The system also can be accessed on your smartphone via the app, ScoutTraffic. A cool feature on the desktop version allows users to view groups of related cameras simultaneously. Click on a highway and all cameras on that highway show up. This can be especially helpful to determine how bad a traffic jam is by checking the cameras sorted by location and seeing where traffic picks back up.

During inclement weather, truckers can use the camera tour feature for any highway in Kansas City to determine if the roads are safe. With live video available, a trucker can just take a screenshot of the video to prove to a doubting dispatcher that conditions do not warrant starting a trip. There may be only an inch of snow on the ground, but camera footage may reveal several cars on the side of the road because of slick conditions.

“During weather events, KC Scout is a one-stop-shop resource for providing the public direct knowledge of what’s occurring on the KC metro interstates as they develop,” said Kelly Alvarez, KC Scout traffic systems supervisor. “With the simple click of a camera, drivers can see live CCTV feed of what the interstates and traffic look like during winter weather events. Our intuitive maps show what incidents, slows downs, or queues are occurring in real-time giving one the means to make informed decisions on driving. Finally, KC Scout provides the public with access to MoDOT and KDOT’s traveler’s information maps, which specifically update interstate winter road conditions and closures in each state – all valuable tools not only for the average driver but for the trucking community.”

Cameras available nationwide

Although the private sector has been cashing in on navigation apps and systems, state DOTs still provide

first-class information for truckers to use. In fact, many of the apps available use data from DOTs. For example, the navigation app Waze, initially using mostly user-driven data, has now teamed up with many state DOTs to ensure accurate and timely information.

Alvarez said that MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map has all of the KC Scout features in addition to work zone information, winter weather road conditions, flooding closures, etc. It also has a 24/7 live customer service line (888-ASK-MODOT or 888-275-6636).

With hundreds of cameras in one metro area, KC Scout may be among the most impressive traffic management systems out there, but other states likely have a similar system in place. Caltrans’ CCTV Map is very similar and is statewide rather than limited to a metro area. As mentioned above, MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map also has a statewide live camera feed. On the East Coast, the New Jersey DOT 511 interactive map also includes cameras. In fact, nearly every state DOT website has live cameras for the public to access, many of which include a mobile app.

Kenneth Cassway knows both sides of the equation. A former owner-operator who started trucking in 1986, Cassway is now an emergency response operator for MoDOT. He advises truckers to utilize the cameras as needed and emphasizes that the driver is always in charge.

“Drivers can actually see road conditions, video feeds and incidents ahead of them,” Cassway told Land Line. “This allows drivers to be proactive about where and when to stop. The drivers are the captains of the ship. Where and when to stop due to travel issues is always their call. Especially when it comes to safety. It’s the driver’s CDL. It’s his and his alone. It doesn’t belong to the dispatchers or the company.”

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of live camera feeds publicly available to determine how good or bad the roads really are. Your tax dollars likely paid for those cameras, so use them whenever you can. Technology has given us an incredible amount of real-time information, so excuses for driving when you shouldn’t have are starting to run out. LL

Editor’s note: While the KC Scout system is not used for traffic enforcement, there are jurisdictions around the country that use cameras for traffic enforcement. For a complete list of those areas visit GHSA.org and search for speed and red light cameras.

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.