Have you ever been driving down the road and heard a weather report on the radio stating good visibility at the same time you're leaning over the steering wheel trying to see the front end of your car during a ground blizzard? This was the catalyst for the idea of providing route specific road and weather conditions in-vehicle in 1995. With the cooperation of the North Dakota Congressional Delegation, the University of North Dakota secured funding through the Federal Highway Administration to work with the North Dakota Department of Transportation to construct, test, and develop a proof of concept of an Advanced Traveler Information System.
By the winter of 1996, UND was providing 24 hour operations in support of #SAFE, a single region-wide number for access by wireless phones across North and South Dakota. In May of 1998, a new company began providing services in North Dakota, Meridian Environmental Technology, Inc. Technology transfer was completed and operations began at Meridian on November 1, 1998. After UND proved the concept for a single statewide number for traveler information could work, and using #SAFE as the basis for a national model, the USDOT filed a formal request with the FCC to assign a nation-wide "511" traveler information number, replacing over 300 separate numbers across the US.
Early 2001 saw the FCC approve the use of 511 for Advanced Traveler Information System. In November of 2001, USDOT published the first 511 guidelines modeled after the philosophy, rules, and requirements of the now UND/Meridian #SAFE system. On November 22, 2002, South Dakota converted to 511, with Montana following suit in January, 2003, followed by Kansas and North Dakota in February, 2003.