Highway Safety Messages by Textured Audible Highway Warnings


RoadTalker was invented December 1995
  • RoadTalker is a safety feature for highways, where audio warning messages are heard by each driver.
  • I invented RoadTalker in 1995, in order to provide safety messages to drivers when a lane is about to end or when a construction zone is ahead or similar.
  • It appears that recently, in 2008, people must have started to try to use my concept, in Korea and in California, but in both cases, they merely have their roadway creating MUSIC and not the far more important AUDIO SAFETY MESSAGES. Maybe they will figure it out some day!
  • In 1995, I had invented both permanent and temporary (for construction zones) versions, and I had invented both a groove-based version and a ridges-based version.
  • Some Museums have asked me to provide them with a modified version of Roadtalker for the walls of their Museums, where a child could wear a stethoscope type headset attached to a stick, where as they dragged the stick along walls, they can hear "secret messages" which no one else is aware of!
  • In each case, a standard PC computer and a microphone records a human voice speaking a warning message such as 'STOP' into a WAV computer format. That digital format can then be exactly copied as a series of either grooves or ridges into the surface of a highway pavement. The SPACING of the ridges establishes the FREQUENCY (or TONE) of the resulting sounds, along with the vehicle speed, to generate either a male or female voice sound. The AMPLITUDE (size) of the grooves or ridges establishes the LOUDNESS of the resulting sounds.

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This concept was invented and Engineered by December 1995. This presentation was first placed on the Internet in June 1997.

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A new highway safety feature could greatly reduce accidents. If a tired driver wandered out of a lane, a human voice would speak a warning message. Before a lane merged or a construction zone began, a similar audio message would be heard. ALL vehicles would receive this message, because it would not be electronic, but rather a series of complex bumps or pits that the tires drive over.

Highway safety has always been a great concern. Many thousands of people lose their lives every year in highway accidents. This new invention may be able to save some of those lives.

Driving on highways can become dull and boring. It is easy to get distracted on a long drive, and become less attentive to the many potential dangers. An Arizona State Police Officer once told me that there are a lot of high-speed single-vehicle crashes on the Interstate highways there. He explained that people had often already driven many hours before getting to the relatively uninteresting highway stretches in his state. He mentioned that some of the accident vehicles were traveling over 100 mph when they veered off the road, often because the driver had fallen asleep.

Some highway departments have installed bright reflective bumps on the lane dividers and at the edge of the highway. The flashing reflected lights (at night) and thumping sounds are advantageous and have certainly awakened many drivers. There is a wonderful improvement of this approach! Instead of being alerted by monotonous thumps, what about if you heard a VOICE warning you about the impending danger? That is the idea of this invention!

You may have approached a highway toll booth and run over some groups of ridges or grooves and heard a deep growling sound in your car. You probably have also driven over a steel bridge that had a deck made of gratings (mostly so rain could fall through.) When you drove over those gratings, you heard a singing sound from your tires. Very few people seem to notice but the speed you drove over the gratings had an effect on the sound: when you drive faster, the pitch of the singing is higher.

Modern digital music technology is excellent evidence that any sound can be duplicated by a sequence of digital values. In the 1980s, this was first applied to talking dolls that became very popular. As the technology developed, computer speaking capabilities developed, and nowadays, EVERYTHING seems to be able to talk, including kitchen appliances.

I propose to install a sequence of irregular bumps or grooves (either will work) along a highway. For example, along the edge of the pavement (before the shoulder) a six-inch wide strip of these bumps or grooves would be installed. As the tires of the vehicle roll over them, vibrations are induced in the body of the tire. These vibrations are conducted through the vehicle's suspension to the body of the vehicle and finally into the passenger compartment. This is the actual reason that you hear that growl or singing of your tires as you pass over the warning ridges or bridge grating.

Instead of keeping the spacing and height and width of the bumps or grooves consistent, RoadTalker varise each of these characteristics. By using standard audio sampling methods, ANY verbal message may be converted into a series of digital amplitude values. By duplicating this sequence along the highway, THAT AUDIO SOUND is induced in the tire, which is then heard in the passenger compartment by the driver. Psychologically, we are extremely alert to the sound of a human voice, especially in a situation when it is unexpected. Hearing this verbal warning message would certainly focus the alertness of the driver immediately, possibly keeping nearly asleep driver from having a serious accident.

When the word "Warning!" is spoken, it takes about one second. At highway speed, a vehicle travels about 100 feet per second. This means that the bumps or grooves would need to be spread out over a stretch of a hundred feet so the verbal message sounded correct at that speed. This extended space allows at least one thousand individual bumps or grooves, enough sound detail to make the verbal message quite understandable. It wouldn't be of CD or radio quality, mostly because the relatively large diameter of the vehicle's tire is in contact with several bumps all at the same time, which sort of "smears" the resultant sound.

At higher vehicle speed, the message is heard in a higher pitched voice, and a little more rapidly. At lower speeds, it sounds like a deeper voice and it is said more slowly. Below about 40 mph, the effect is somewhat less. There is less impact on the tire, so therefore the loudness is less. Also, there is even more smearing of the sounds produced, so the message is less understandable.


There are several separate products possible with RoadTalker.


These message would be permanently installed in the highway surface. Either wear resistant metal or concrete would be used for bumps/ridges or a grooving machine would gouge the grooves in the pavement.

Temporary - Construction

During construction periods on a highway, both drivers and highway construction personnel could benefit from the added safety of this invention. For this situation, the messages would be imprinted on a coiled length of durable rubber or similar material. These messages would be adhered directly in the traffic lanes, such that the vehicle driver side tires would roll over the digital pattern. By being created as rolls of rubber, individual messages could be stored for immediate use by any local highway department. The appropriate roll would be taken to the site and in a matter of minutes a small crew could apply the necessary adhesive and unroll the coil. Remembering that even a single word WARNING! would take a one-hundred-foot long roll, it may be more practical to store and apply it as half-second increment sections. The very front edge should be beveled and probably should also be mechanically anchored to the pavement so it could not be broken free of the pavement. The same is true at any joints in the message.

RoadTalker represents a significant additional safety feature that should be applied to many locations of the highway system. The expense of the RoadTalker technology is quite moderate, and the benefits are great, in fewer accidents, injuries and deaths.

I invented RoadTalker in December 1995. This presentation was first placed on the Internet in June 1997.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago