Empowering safety engineers
U.S. efforts to improve traffic safety have delivered considerable progress over the last five years. From 2005 to 2009, traffic fatalities have declined over 21%. The fatality rate has dropped from 1.46 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled, to 1.13 – the lowest rate since 1954. While this success can be attributed to a variety of factors, the focus on safety by State Departments of Transportations (DOT) and State Offices of Public Safety certainly deserves some of the credit.
I believe there are four key areas where GIS has, and will continue to assist safety engineers in reducing traffic crashes and fatalities:
- Data Collection: It is still the case that capturing the accurate location of crash information remains a challenge for many states. It’s not uncommon for there to be a multi-year backlog for taking textual descriptions from police accident reports, and assigning accurate locations to the crash record. And yet, the collection of crash location data is paramount to the downstream analysis that helps safety managers understand the causes of these crash hotspots. GPS and GIS can provide the tools for the responding officer to accurately collect this information at the scene, and have it seamlessly incorporated into their crash reports. We must be more aggressive in adopting and implementing this kind of technology in the field.
- Data Management: It is not enough to have our crash data geo-coded and displayed on a one-dimensional map. Safety analysts need access to a wealth of other information, such as traffic volumes, roadway characteristics, pavement and weather conditions, and even video-logs, all assembled into multi-year crash databases for use by analysts. GIS can supply the integrative framework to bring that data and its telling information into a comprehensive database for complex analysis.
- Spatial Analysis: While a number of states have implemented impressive crash database solutions, less have taken full advantage of spatial statistics to perform more comprehensive crash analyses. GIS has the capability of uncovering spatial relationships in crash data that cannot be discovered through traditional statistical techniques. Today, many spatial statistical tools are now built into GIS software, and available to analysts to build complex models in a relatively straightforward fashion.
- Data Dissemination: State DOTs have a statutory responsibility to submit an annual report describing the top five percent of their highway locations with the greatest safety needs. Almost all states meet that requirement with a descriptive table, but only three state DOTs include a simple map to accompany their reports. GIS technology can breathe life into these reports by demonstrating current safety improvement projects and initiatives, viewable by the public via the web. In this manner, GIS provides a powerful way for communicating the DOT’s current initiatives and successes to the traveling public. And the public itself can use this information to alter its own driving habits and behaviors.
These are ways that safety managers can achieve even greater success in the future.