Last week, it was reported that MODOT was about to deploy LRAD (long-range acoustic device) sound cannons to get drivers to slow down near work sites. Unsurprisingly, many people were doubtful that emitting a loud and annoying sound was the best way to encourage people to let off the gas, and MODOT's Facebook page was filled with comments saying as much (those comments have since been deleted).
But Missourian outrage doesn't matter anymore because MODOT says the sound cannons won't be used after all. An employee with MODOT's communications department says budget cuts are the reason, and the $25,000 sound cannons are one of many things the agency will have to sacrifice this year.
Judging by the public response, however, the sound cannons won't be missed. Here's a video of MODOT testing the LRAD device. If anything, it seems like people would be tempted to step on the gas just to get that sound out of their heads:
A statement on MODOT Kansas City's Facebook page explains the reasoning behind the plan before the decision to cut back:
"Units will follow two of our striping operations. They'll broadcast a constant message to drivers behind the striper trucks that slow-moving vehicles are ahead. This will be done at an OSHA- safe sound level. The sound is focused to reach oncoming traffic as the trucks move down the highway. Why are we doing this? We want your attention near our slow-moving operations so you can take proper action and avoid crashing into our big trucks. Your safety is at stake."
One reason for the public outrage is that several news sites, including the conspiracy-theory-leaning InfoWars.com noted that the sound cannons are used by the U.S. military to subdue militants in Afghanistan as well as by police to break up protests in the U.S.
Though the volume level is much higher for those uses, it didn't exactly give the impression of comfort and safety once people heard about the LRAD sound cannons.
Here's a video of people slowly and calmly leaving an area with the assistance of an LRAD sound cannon during the 2009 G20 summit in Pittsburgh:
MODOT wasn't planning to pump up the volume to anti-protest levels; the volume was planned to range between 61 and 70 decibels. That level is somewhere between conversation levels and a vacuum cleaner, according to this chart.
Although emitting a loud and irksome sound seems counterintuitive to encouraging people to slow down, accidents in work zones happen often enough to have killed more than 200 people in Missouri since 2003 -- and the vast majority of them have been drivers.
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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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