Transportation Wants to Use Data to Predict Accidents and Make Roads Safer

JaySi/Shutterstock.com

The Transportation Department collects a wealth of data on traffic accidents but can't present it in the most impactful way to policymakers.

When it comes to data, the Transportation Department is all dressed up but not sure how to present itself.

While the agency collects incredibly detailed information on roads, vehicles and collisions across the country, it lacks the tech to present the data in an appealing, accessible way. But today the organization is building tools that could give state and local policymakers specific pointers for improving safety on their roads.

“Simply visualizing data ... may spur new ways of thinking,” said Derek Kan, Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, in a conversation with Nextgov. “If you present it in a visually compelling way, you can drive better outcomes and create better insights,”

As the former general manager at Lyft, Kan saw firsthand how data on location, speed and other factors can reveal problems and offer solutions if it’s presented in the right way. But advanced analytics and visualization tools are relatively new to the world of transportation, especially in government, he said.

On average, roughly 37,000 people die every year on U.S. roads, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knows virtually all there is to know about those accidents. Using the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the organization compiles some 200 data points—including speed, direction, passengers’ seating arrangements, vehicle make, model and more—on every fatal collision that occurs on U.S. roads.

In Kan’s eyes, the annual FARS review is “one of the best reports the U.S. government puts together,” but the data presentation looks so outdated it “could be on parchment,” he said. The FARS and reports like it contain insights policymakers could use to improve traffic safety in their jurisdictions, he said, but they’re too often buried within extensive, monotonous data tables.

But the department has already started building tools to visualize FARS data, and the private sector is also chipping in to make new insights pop off the page.

On Friday, the department announced the five semifinalists in its Safety Data Challenge, a competition to visualize proprietary and public traffic data in ways that shed new light on safety and crash prevention. The semifinalists—which include Ford and Uber—will now create proofs of concept for their tools, and two finalists will eventually compete for a $250,000 cash prize.

The department plans to publish the winning tools online so groups across the country can immediately begin using them to inform policy decisions, according to Kan.

He said tools that combine multiple datasets offer a much more holistic view of traffic safety, and that big picture view can inform more nuanced safety policies. For instance, overlaying accident data with information on road conditions can reveal why some intersections and streets are more dangerous than others, he said. Add weather conditions, time of day, nearby events and other factors, and governments can get “a pretty good estimate” of when and where accidents will occur and make policy decisions accordingly.

“[It’s] sort of like bringing electricity to the fire age,” said Kan.

Like many other agencies, Transportation sees data governance and standardization as critical to ushering in advanced analytics and machine learning tools, and it’s beginning to explore ways to link its disparate datasets, according to Kan.

“If you can marry some of these things together you can unlock tremendous value,” he said.

While it’s unlikely the government will use analytics tools to make sweeping transportation policy changes, the agency could eventually create best practices for adopting data-driven policies at the state and local level, he said. And while there are some issues where lawmakers might debate the merits of data-driven policy, safety is something Kan thinks everyone can stand behind.

“Fatal accidents are clearly a public safety [hazard] that we should all be looking to minimize,” he said. “It's an outcome that's pretty unobjectionable.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.