Changes to 5-1-1 system allow drivers to customize information

ITD introduced new options to the 511 Traveler Services program this year that allow drivers to tailor reports to their own needs. Registering on the website gives them the option of receiving direct reports for their preferred routes through e-mail, text messages or Twitter.

ITD began testing the technology in late March that enables travelers to receive information about highway conditions, delays and closures through automated alerts from Twitter. The system now is available for public use.

That new option complements an earlier upgrade that introduced direct highway notifications through text messages to cell phones or e-mail alerts to computers. To take advantage of those alerts, users established a free account on the 511 site that allowed them to designate route preferences.

The newest option does not require travelers to establish accounts, but they must be registered with Twitter to receive "tweets" with automated highway condition reports.

To take advantage of the Twitter-based automatic reports, motorists will need to visit the high-bandwidth site on ITD’s 511 page ( Reports are available on a county basis. Users can designate one or more counties for which to receive notices about incidents that could impact their travel.

They also can choose a statewide option that delivers information about blockages or closures and active Amber Alerts.

ITD has delivered condensed versions of news releases or other notices through Twitter for some time, but the new option does not require a person to create each message. Tweets are generated automatically when new information is entered into the 511 system.

“Improvements to the system allow direct delivery of information, based on what drivers need, when they need it, and how they need it,” explains Tony Ernest, manager of the system. “At the same time, we remind drivers that Idaho has enacted a new texting law.

The three new information delivery systems – e-mail, text messaging and Twitter alerts – reflect ITD’s commitment to keep motorists safer and better informed of highway and weather conditions. Providing that free information on a timely basis allows motorists to make wise travel decisions, Ernest says.

“We’re trying to get critical roadway information to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible,” Ernest said. “We want to make it available in a format that is the most useful.”

ITD joins only Minnesota and Iowa on the CARS (Condition Acquisition Reporting System) coalition that offer automated Twitter feeds. Idaho’s system is continually evolving and improving, Ernest says.

It remains one of the most robust, feature-laden systems in the country.

Since the 511 Traveler Service website and phone system are intended to improve safety, motorists are encouraged to check for conditions before operating a vehicle or to entrust a passenger with the task. It is unsafe to check mobile devices while driving, and became illegal statewide on July 1. For your own safety, check before you go.

Winter conditions should not deter travel, advises ITD Chief Engineer Tom Cole. In fact, it is one of the best times to experience the state’s geographic diversity.

“Idaho is never more beautiful than when it is dressed for winter. We hope drivers enjoy traveling through the state, regardless of seasons. But we also want them to stay safe by taking common precautions and to drive according to highway and weather conditions.”

Published 11-23-2012