Roadway Friction Modeling: Improving the Use of Friction Measurements in State DOTs

Project Details









Federal Highway Administration Aurora Program Transportation Pooled Fund (TPF-5(435))

Principal Investigator
Gerry Wiener

National Center for Atmospheric Research

Co-Principal Investigator
Laura Fay

About the research

The objectives of this project were to determine the relationship between weather conditions and roadway friction measurements as observed in the laboratory, determine whether it is possible to standardize friction measurements coming from multiple friction sensors for identical weather conditions and roadway pavement types, determine whether the relationship between weather and roadway friction found in the laboratory is analogous to the relationship between weather and pavement friction found in practice on highways, and model roadway friction using weather conditions to predict it at sites where friction measurements may not be available.

The objectives were accomplished through cold laboratory testing of stationary friction sensors, standardizing friction measurements from multiple stationary and mobile friction sensors, using meteorological measurements from Colorado and Minnesota to infer road friction conditions, and conducting a friction wheel measurement analysis using data from Sweden.

Key findings from this effort include the following:

  • Machine learning models can be created using data from friction sensors in the cold laboratory that exhibit a good mean absolute error in predicting the laboratory friction response to meteorological conditions set in the laboratory, but the models have a higher mean absolute error when applied to data from the field. For this reason, the researchers do not recommend using the model developed in the laboratory with field data.
  • Collocated road weather information system (RWIS) and stationary friction sensor data can be used to develop state-specific friction models using machine learning techniques. These models can then be used to provide a synthetic friction estimate at RWIS sites that are not equipped with stationary friction sensors. The accuracy of the predictions can be determined at sites where friction sensors are available. The accuracy is improved when water thickness and/or snow thickness are available.
  • RWIS measurements including air temperature, surface temperature, dew point temperature, relative humidity, and road condition measurements including road state, water thickness, and snow thickness can be used to derive an accurate friction model that targets observed friction values.
  • Friction values from multiple sensor types are close in magnitude when friction is high, but when friction values drop, agreement among sensors is variable. To standardize the measurements from multiple friction sensors, friction values from multiple sensors can either be averaged or associated with a set of friction categories.