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In 2014, Kristen Hopkins, a single mother of four, was found 65 miles southwest of Denver after her vehicle went off the side of Red Hill Pass on Highway 285. Remarkably, Ms. Hopkins had survived for six days without food or water. Sadly, however, exposure and severe lower-leg injuries required that both of her feet be amputated. Since then, this amazing story has inspired the development of new road technology — technology that, in part, will help shorten emergency response times for crash victims. Following Ms. Hopkins’ accident, an important question arose: How could a disabled vehicle go virtually unnoticed for nearly a week on the side of a busy highway? Only after six days did a couple driving by see the car upside down in a heavily- wooded ravine. The couple was able to get help. While Ms. Hopkins’ story of survival is inspirational, it’s tragic that she went so long without anyone noticing. It’s just as tragic that her feet had to be amputated due to the delay in locating her vehicle and getting appropriate medical treatment. The good news is that Ms. Hopkins’ story has spurred the Colorado Department of Traffic (CDOT) to start testing new underground sensors that make up what’s called “smart pavement.” “Smart pavement” is designed to detect accidents that involve cars leaving the roadway and then immediately notify emergency responders. This new wireless technology could be a lifesaver for victims like Ms. Hopkins.
Interestingly, this new approach to roadside technology will not only alert emergency responders, but it will also be used to improve traffic safety in other ways. This includes connecting drivers to the internet, supporting driverless vehicle technology, and providing connectivity between smart cars. Today, we have smartphones, smart appliances, smart cars, and smart cities. This new long- lasting “smart pavement” will allow for real-time notifications to all connected vehicles. As part of this story, General Motors is now under scrutiny for the crash-avoidance system in Ms. Hopkins’ 2009 Chevy Malibu — a system that may have been defective before the crash.
While she was recuperating and learning to walk on her prosthetic legs, Ms. Hopkins received a recall notification from GM. The notice involved the vehicle’s crash-avoidance system and power steering. The vehicle recall prompted a lawsuit filed in federal court in Denver. Hopefully, CDOT’s initial testing of the new “smart pavement” will prompt expanded use on dangerous interstates, mountain highways, and country roads throughout the state. Though motor-vehicle crashes have been on the rise in Colorado, new road technology and better-designed vehicles are on the verge of helping us make a leap forward when it comes to our safety and the safety of our loved ones.
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