After a serious accident involving a tractor vs. a semi, caused the fatality of a community member in January 2016, Brad Willborn knew something needed to change. Willborn, a Belmont resident, thought there had to be a way to do a better job with warning people about slow moving vehicles. He sat on the idea for a few months and mentioned it to his wife who agreed it was a good idea. Willborn called up Ole Olson, an engineer from Oregon, Wis., originally from Belmont, to help him create something.
Willborn and w\Olson are the creators of Slow Ride LLC, which produces a road sign that helps traffic be aware of a slow moving object that may be on the road. The sign detects the rate of speed and turns on flashing lights to warn oncoming traffic that there is something slow moving in front of them and to slow down themselves.
“I drove Hwy. 126 everyday to work for 15 years and it was [risky], every single day, because you never know when the Amish are moving,” Willborn commented
In this Driftless area, there are plenty of hills, blind corners, and narrow roads. In the past 18 months in Wisconsin, there have been 20 fatalities involving a slow moving object.
“Looking into it, there are so many different service vehicles or objects on the roads, whether it is school buses stopped to pick up kids or the mailman or a garbage truck,” Olson said.
The prototype is run by solar power, portable and is able to be set off by any slow moving object that passes it, such as someone walking, biking, an Amish buggy, just to name a few. That object passes the sign, the sensors on the sign are tripped and the lights start flashing.
The lights can be set to whatever time is needed for that object to get somewhere safe, where others can see that object clearly and the sensors can be set to pick up any speed. With much of the new machinery being so big and so fast, the sensor can be set to pick up speeds of 25, 35 or whatever it needs to be. Willborn stated it is an intelligent sign.
“We can set the timer, set the speed, set all that stuff,” Willborn included
Their first goal was to find these types of signs and start a company to install them.
“But nobody makes anything like it. It seemed like a simple application. So now our goal is not only to manufacture but install them,” Olson remarked.
They applied for a patent in May and had the first prototype working by the summer. They currently have two ways to set off the lights, by moving past the sensors and picking up the speed and by remote control. They hope to have a third option with a computer chip on the vehicle that would trigger the sign.
Right now, they have three prototypes on two different roads; two on Sunnydale Road, just north of Belmont, since October and one on Bethel Grove Road, near Lake Joy. The ones on Sunnydale were the first ones they had installed.
“In the first ten days, the sensor went off 380 times,” Olson said.
They have presented their prototypes to the Wisconsin Township Association, Farm Bureau Conference, Farm Union Conference, Lafayette County Safety Commission, Lafayette County Township Association, Belmont Township, and Organic Valley.
“I haven’t had one person say that this was a wasted idea or a dumb thing to do. Everyone is totally behind it,” Willborn pointed out.
Their challenge now is to help townships and communities find the money to buy them. They were able to keep the costs down by making them portable. The signs cost about $1,800 to make but Olson mentioned that they are funding all the prototypes themselves, so it limits how many signs they can put out there right now. Another goal is to build a shop and manufacture in them in Lafayette County and keep it local.
“If we had it all set up, we could crank out a dozen a day between the two of us,” Olson added.
The signs can be purchased individually or as an independent. A farmer could purchase this for an area they see as a concern, but would need approval from their township to install it. Willborn and Olson are looking at townships to be their first focus because it is easier to put on the signs on township roads instead of state roads.
They have heard several great stories from people knowing how these signs would work. At the meeting with Organic Valley, they heard complaints from milk truck drivers having to back up in an area to load and afraid to back up on a road because people could come up over the hill and could cause an accident. At the Farm Bureau Conference, a school bus driver stated he gets passed almost once a day even with his amber lights on and stop sign out because he is over a knoll and people can’t stop once they see him. At the Lafayette County Safety Commission, they were proud to get the support from Lafayette County Highway Commissioner Tom Jean and Lafayette County Sheriff Reg Gill and the comment from an elder of the Amish community stating that, “I think this will save Amish lives”.
This sign can be used anywhere throughout this Driftless area. It can be used to warn traffic of blind driveways, Amish buggies, walking trails, school buses, mail carriers, etc. After putting enough of the signs up, another task is to educate people on letting them know if they see a flashing sign out in the country to slow down because something slow is ahead of them.
“There are all sorts of hazards caused by slow moving vehicles. There are accidents with everyone of them,” Olson said.
“Anytime of the day or night, any weather conditions, there are a million different things,” Willborn added.
They just want to keep things safer.