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Information gathered from vehicle sensors can efficiently inform decisions about road safety strategies.
Transportation planners looking to address road safety issues and traffic fatalities could move beyond traditional methods of determining unsafe areas and rely more on technology, including the data collected by connected vehicles, according to one expert.
The renewed focus on technology-driven solutions comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s announcement earlier this month of $800 million in grant funding for projects to make roads safer and address the country’s rate of traffic fatalities.
With recent federal figures showing that traffic deaths in the U.S. remain stubbornly high, data collected by connected cars could give local officials more insights into where those deaths and accidents are happening and make it easier for them to devise mitigation strategies.
At present, traffic managers typically rely on data from pneumatic road tubes to measure traffic speeds and determine speed limits on certain roads. For accident hotspots, like specific intersections or work zones, traffic planners may also look to reports from the public or law enforcement.
But with their suite of sensors, connected cars collect far more data, including speed, acceleration, braking, seatbelt usage, turning and trajectory. The raw information gathered from those vehicles can then be ingested in a data platform and put into a common data model for analysis.
Angela Priest, senior vice president of strategy and innovation at connected vehicle company Wejo, said a connected car can produce more than 25 gigabytes of data an hour, and once cleaned that data can provide useful insights for traffic planners.
For example, Priest said data from connected cars can show instances where vehicles have braked suddenly, which after further analysis could indicate that more traffic calming infrastructure may be needed to promote slower speeds, especially if pedestrians and bicyclists are in the area.
Wejo also worked with Purdue University and the Indiana Department of Transportation to collect data on crashes and fatalities that occurred around work zones in the state. Analysis revealed that incidents happened partly due to drivers braking hard when they encountered a queue of cars waiting to pass through a work zone.
By using that data, the state could then provide real-time alerts to drivers on approaching work zones so they could prepare to slow down—a solution that reduced hard braking events and subsequent accidents by half.
“If you've got the capability to ingest data in real time and see that cars are diverting around a particular lane, which we can see in the connected vehicle data, then you can start to update your dynamic speed limit signs to say, ‘Okay, we need to slow traffic down,’” Priest said.
Using connected car data to monitor those types of incidents is more cost effective than using road tubes or other measuring devices, she said, and over time it can help planners see “historical patterns of behavior” on streets.
Priest said that momentum is building among state DOTs and engineers around using connected vehicle data to help with planning, but education is crucial for more agencies to follow suit. Once officials see the data, they understand that it gives insights that traditional methods of road planning do not.
When transportation managers can see real-time causes of harsh braking events that lead to accidents, it’s hard for them to look at a mitigation tactic and say, “‘Nope, we don't need it,’” Priest said.