June 1, 2007 Ohio State University scientists have created software that can identify traffic accident hot spots on state roadways. Right now, it is being used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP).
There are more than 6 million auto accidents each year in the United States. Last year, 3 million people were injured, and 43,000 killed. Now, police and scientists are teaming up to figure out where and when accidents may happen before they do happen.
Sgt. John Maxey, from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, knows the reality of speeding, drunk driving, reckless driving. He's had to tell family after family their loved one is never coming home. "That's something you never get used to," Maxey says.
One hundred fifteen people die every day in car crashes in the United States -- that's one death every 13 minutes. Now statisticians are teaming up with law enforcement to try and predict the next traffic accident hotspot.
Lt. Anthony Bradshaw, from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, says, "We wanted to try and predict where these crashes are going to occur. Not specifically that you're going to be involved in a crash in a specific time, date and place, but if you're more likely to be involved in a specific crash during a specific time, date and place."
Christopher Holloman, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the Ohio State University created a predictive statistical computer model. It incorporates information about alcohol, speeding and time of day to find out when drivers are most at risk. "We looked in those data for consistent patterns," Dr. Holloman says.
The computer model shows the roads with the most fatal accidents in the entire state and in specific cities. "The highest risk for alcohol-related crashes is Saturday and Sunday mornings around 2-3 am," Dr. Holloman explains. The computer model shows the roads with the most fatal accidents in the entire state and in specific cities.
In Ohio, the most speeding accidents happen during weekday rush hours. The model also reveals surprising facts about holidays. Dr. Holloman says, "There's a really high risk of alcohol-related crashes early in the morning on the day before a long weekend." So, if Labor Day is on a Monday, drivers are at highest risk for a crash the Friday before the holiday. The model also shows the deadliest month to drive is July, and the least deadly is February.
Knowing this information, police can position themselves in dangerous areas, at peak accident times in hopes of stopping an accident before someone gets hurt. This software is currently being used in Ohio, but can be adapted for any state. A key to making it work is the quality of accident data reported by police departments.
BACKGROUND: Ohio State University scientists have created software that can identify traffic accident hot spots on state roadways. Right now, it is being used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) to help position its cruisers during major holidays, but the software is publicly available and can be adapted for use by any state.
HOW IT WORKS: The software relies on reports of injuries and fatalities from the highway patrol and incorporates statistics about what makes accidents happen. It makes general forecasts because, while common accident causes such as speeding or drinking are easy to predict using computers, others, such as drivers distracted while talking on cell phones, are next to impossible. But the software can identify those pieces of roadway that are riskier at a particular time, even though it can't reveal why a given area is prone to a particular type of accident.
GETTING GOOD DATA: The key is the quality of the accident data gathered for a particular state. In the case of the OSHP, data was collected from nearly all of the state's 88 counties, and included the location of crashes. The software has now been combined with Google Earth, which offers an interactive map of the entire globe including major roadways. The OSU software color-codes the roadways in Ohio, so users can zoom in to see the general likelihood of accidents in any region of the state. The resulting 900-megabyte database details every traffic accident that occurred on Ohio highways between 2001 and 2005, and generates 50 gigabytes of output data. It took two weeks at the Ohio Supercomputer Center to process the equations to connect all the data.
WHAT THEY FOUND: The software indicates that most speeding accidents in Ohio happen during weekday rush hours, while most drunk driving accidents occur on weekends between 2 and 3 AM, after the bars close. However, there were some surprises. Most Ohio residents live in and around Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, so the researchers expected that most fatal accidents would happen near those cities. Instead, they found that most occurred on the interstates near Columbus and Cincinnati, while near Cleveland more fatalities occur on the U.S. routes and state routes near the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.