11 Sep 2018

Could better data improve traffic safety? IBM's Rich McKay thinks so

On August 17, 1896, Bridget Driscoll was crossing the Crystal Palace grounds in London when she was struck by a car driving “at a reckless pace, in fact, like a fire engine,” according to a witness.

She was the first reported person to die in an auto collision. The coroner at the time said he hoped “such a thing would never happen again.” Since then, it has been estimated that more than 550,000 people have been killed on U.K. roads alone. Worldwide, 1.3 million people die in car accidents each year.

How can IoT help improve traffic safety?

Ever since, governments have pursued new ideas and technology to make streets safer. Many innovations, such as the traffic signal, were developed by private companies that ultimately benefited the public good.

We’re now seeing the next evolution of this type of private-public partnership. Through a new coalition, Together for Safer Roads (TSR), companies such as AIG, Anheuser-Busch InBev, IBM, and AT&T are contributing data analysis, analytics systems, and business expertise to global traffic safety initiatives.

TSR helped reduce road deaths by nearly 6 percent in São Paulo, Brazil in 2017, and rolled out crash hotspot and driver behavior analysis in Shanghai, China, which has the world’s busiest transportation system.

Since 2015, TSR has also been helping to redesign Atlanta’s North Avenue, a major road with a crash rate more than 200 percent above the statewide average. It installed more than 100 IoT sensors at 18 signalized intersections, as well as “an adaptive signal timing system, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, and reconfiguration of the existing roadway through restriping to support crash reduction and future acceptance of autonomous vehicles,” said Faye DiMassimo, the general manager for Renew Atlanta.

The Angle

How can cities help improve traffic safety and reduce the number of traffic deaths? Good data, TSR President David Braunstein said, is key.

“You can’t solve that problem if you don’t know when and where crashes happen,” he said.

Getting good data requires that cities aggregate and analyze information from all available sources.

City officials in Atlanta, for instance, analyzed data from the city’s public works and emergency services sectors, as well as traffic congestion data from INRIX, a company that studies road conditions down to the street level. Working with IBM, they also collected weather data from the Weather Company, insurance claims data, and events data.

The insights from this data helped the city reduce traffic fatalities and determine where to install IoT sensors and tweak traffic light timing. The new data also facilitated faster emergency vehicle response times.

“Transformational technologies such as IoT and AI help us deliver on the city of tomorrow,” said IBM’s Miro Holecy. “They enable a city to be a system orchestrator, constantly learn through interactions with citizens, and ingest real-time data from sensors and services.”

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