How IBM's big data traffic cop can reduce gridlock

Harnessing the so-called Internet of Things might help drivers get to their Memorial Day weekend destinations more quickly and safely.

Just in time for the busy holiday travel rush, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, partnering with IBM, rolled out last month a new smart traffic system along the state's two busiest highways: the Garden State Parkway and the Turnpike.

"It's getting the real-time feedback of ... what's actually happening on the roadways and giving the traffic professionals ... the ability to then react immediately," IBM's senior vice president of analytics, Bob Picciano, said Friday.

When there's an accident, the predictive software from IBM, acting with sophisticated road sensors, helps transportation officials put the word out on digital highway signs and actually reduce the speed limit—allowing emergency workers easier access to the incident site while slowing down the crush of vehicles approaching.

Clearing the accident sooner with a lighter traffic flow through the area can reduce the often miles-long backups.

Traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike
Getty Images
Traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike

"By alerting drivers upstream in terms of what's happening, they're [also] able to avoid ... secondary incidents," explained Picciano—saying the secondary crashes around a scene can sometimes be more serious than the original accident.

"New Jersey has the ability to transmit [all] that data back to secondary navigation systems," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" in an interview—helping arm drivers who depend on GPS devices in their vehicles with the most up-to-date information.

This long weekend about 8 million drivers are expected to travel the Garden State Parkway, with about 3.8 million on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Nationwide, according to AAA, 33 million drivers were projected to hit the road for Memorial Day, the most in 10 years.

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