Most motor vehicle crashes are predictable and largely avoidable. A 2016 CDC report comparing U.S. accident statistics to 19 of the world’s most developed countries indicates the U.S. could make significant improvements in reducing motor vehicle accidents and related deaths.

Data analysis and crash mapping has proven an effective way to identify high-risk areas, reduce incidents, and ultimately create safer cities for commuters. Private organizations and some cities are leveraging interactive mapping tools and apps to provide road safety information to the public. 

In 2015, transit advocacy nonprofit Reconnect Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., released an interactive “Crash Map” that uses data collected from the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to visualize all types of traffic accidents throughout Monroe County where the city is located.

“It’s a tool that will hopefully engage the public and pique the interest of ordinary citizens to ask more questions and get more involved in the planning of their own cities,” said Mike Governale, Reconnect Rochester’s founder and president.  

The map allows people to explore traffic information from 2010 through 2014 and sort content based on criteria including crash type, vehicle count, and number of injuries. Details regarding the individual crashes, such as traffic control, weather, and road service conditions are also available. Governale hopes the public availability of this data will influence traffic calming efforts and help create safer, more walkable roads.

This spring, Reconnect Rochester plans to request data from NYSDOT to update the map with incidents from 2015 and 2016.

“We’d like to be able to go get the data every year from NYSDOT but [it’s] costly,” Governale said.

Reconnect Rochester plans to continue improving the Crash Map, specifically by arranging its crash data according to traffic volume. Viewers will then be able to identify the most dangerous and accident-heavy intersections in Monroe County.

Governale encourages citizens to “bring that data to your planners and ask questions. That effort alone would have dramatic impact on the decisions that get made by the DOT.”

Governale pointed to an example in which the Monroe Country DOT planned a road paving for St. Paul Blvd. in Irondequoit, N.Y. Residents used the crash map to argue for a “road diet,” or the removal of one lane of traffic, to help calm traffic through their neighborhood. 

Other cities are deploying interactive mapping in similar ways. Vision Zero is a Swedish-born road traffic safety project that seeks to reduce the number of traffic deaths to zero through active planning, education, and data analysis. The project includes interactive maps identifying problem areas such as blind intersections, high-speed zones, and sidewalk-less roads for cyclists and pedestrians in local areas. So far, major U.S. cities including Tampa, San Francisco, New York City, and more have adopted Vision Zero’s goal for road safety. New York City jumped on board in 2014, and just one year later reduced its speed limits from 30 to 25 mph, added speed cameras, and began safe pedestrian education programs in city schools. 

Across the Atlantic, a team of collision analysts and road safety workers developed a comprehensive crash map of the U.K. Active since 2011, the map is similar to Reconnect Rochester’s project, but operates on a national rather than local scale.

With continued adoption and data-driven action, the mapping and analysis of crash information in the U.S. could have a significant role in reducing preventable traffic accidents and deaths.

Photo Credit: Reconnect Rochester

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Posted by Andrew Foerch

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