Traffic safety project captures top prize
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Traffic safety project captures top prize

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Aviv Butvinik of Fair Lawn and a senior at Montclair State University, developed the Heads Up Pedestrian Alert system.

Cars have a clear advantage over pedestrians. When an automobile – particularly one that is speeding – hits a person, it is not the car that will suffer.

While this may be obvious, nevertheless it is corroborated by statistics. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 4,743 pedestrians and 726 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2012.

In 2013, Aviv Butvinik of Fair Lawn, a senior at Montclair State University, read an article about such a crash. A family had tried to cross a street when a fast-moving car ran into them and killed them.

“I wanted to create something that could help prevent this from happening again,” said Mr. Butvinik, who is majoring in industrial design. “Cars driving uphill at night cannot see pedestrians crossing the road up ahead. Likewise, the pedestrians crossing the road can’t see the cars coming up the hill down below.”

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Aviv Butvinik

In an area like Bergen County – where many people walk back and forth from synagogue at all times of day and on varying terrains – the problem is particularly pressing.

Spurred by his desire to help, Mr. Butvinik created the Heads Up Pedestrian Alert System, winning first prize in the nationwide Designs for Safety Competition sponsored by the World Traffic Safety Symposium. In April, he received his prize at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.

“Industrial design is about creating solutions to people’s problems with things,” said Mr. Butvinik, who took home $4,000 of the $5,000 prize money. The remainder goes to his school. (A statement from the college notes that this is the third consecutive year one of its students has taken home first prize in this competition.)

“I always liked building things,” he said. But while he had always intended to create “regular products, such as wristwatches,” his yearlong work on the project “has definitely inspired me to work on safety.”

The pedestrian alert system, which he said “can be implemented relatively easily,” involves LED lights and a warning siren.

“We already have the ability to do it,” he said, noting that some pedestrian signals already have speakers and lights. “They just have to program in the device I designed.”

Pointing out that some accidents come about because of a blind spot caused by the slope of a hill, Mr. Butvinik said his system would alert pedestrians to cars coming up the hill “so fast that they can’t stop.” When the pedestrians see the flashing lights and hear the warning siren, they will know they should immediately evacuate the area.

He explained that his system employs three piezoelectric strips, which measure a vehicle’s speed. If the car is going too fast to stop in time, it will set off the warning signals.

As he created his system, Mr. Butvinik did a good deal of research, consulting news articles and conducting interviews to ensure that his plan was “understandable,” as he put it.

“I had tons of other ideas, but all those went into the trash,” he said, explaining that “they weren’t plausible or feasible.” Instead, “I kept developing the idea, and finding new solutions.”

He’s been inspired to think more about the safety field, Mr. Butvinik added. “I hear more and more stories about things that happen on the road. I believe in helping people.”

The need to design objects with users’ safety in mind applies to other areas as well.

“With kids’ toys, for example, the parts must be large enough so the kids don’t swallow them,” he said. “With road safety, the system has to be understandable, so you get it with one glance. The goal is to save lives.”

Mr. Butvinik said the project was “hard work,” and it still is not finished. Even after designing his system, “I continued to develop it. I could still rework the entire project.”

He said he doesn’t know if his system ever will be implemented, but he hopes that the idea will gain traction. At any rate, he said, most innovations take at least five years to develop and produce.

“The best part of winning is knowing that the company that is sponsoring the grand prize now knows about the system,” he said. “They may even have the money to create it. That is very exciting.”

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