Courtesy UDOT

UDOT: BYU-built app ‘a game-changer’ in traffic safety

By Jed Boal  |  Posted Apr 21st, 2014 @ 10:21pm


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PROVO — Three professors at BYU have created a traffic crash model that the Utah Department of Transportation calls “a game-changer” for making roads safer and saving lives.

The computerized Utah Crash Prediction Model crunches data and pinpoints the biggest road problems in the state, and UDOT is using it to prioritize safety projects that have the most impact in saving lives.

"We wanted to help UDOT meet its goal of zero fatalities,” said Grant Schultz, civil engineering professor at BYU.

Schultz and two colleagues — civil engineering professor Mitsuru Saito and statistics professor Shane Reese — developed a better statistical model to identify hot spots for crashes.

The model uses more variables than just crash numbers and traffic volume to get a clearer picture of the problem. It also takes into account all of the conditions of a segment of roadway and determines how many crashes are expected to occur there, Shultz said; then it compares that number with the actual number of crashes that happen.

“So, (when) we can truly see that we are having a lot more crashes here than we should have, that's where we really need to put our money,” Schultz said.

As they crunched the data for crash hot spots all across the state, they discovered the intersection of University Avenue and Bulldog Boulevard in Provo had a large number of left-turn crashes. So, in the fall UDOT plans to install new equipment; if you are turning left, you’ll only be able to do so on a left arrow.

“We've used a technique called Bayesian statistics, which is kind of taking over the statistical world,” Reese said.

The technique, he said, is a game-changing way to account for many sources of uncertainty in a problem — like individual drivers, road conditions and the number of curves in a stretch of highway.

"The Bayesian model sort of wraps all of that uncertainty up into a ball and assesses the uncertainty; and then we are able to use that uncertainty in making decisions,” Reese said.

With the program's help, UDOT’s decided to install a cable barrier in a median along a stretch of I-15 in southern Utah, and to put a high-friction surface on a dangerous curve in Logan Canyon.

The rest, Reese said, is up to drivers.

"We need the public to get out there and stop texting and driving, stop being distracted, pay attention to what you're doing and we can all be safe," he said.

UDOT was so pleased with the results of the Utah Crash Prediction Model program, the agency awarded the professors with the Executive Director’s Excellence in Transportation Safety Award.

“We asked BYU to build a statistical model for Utah knowing it was quite an ambitious challenge,” Scott Jones, UDOT safety programs engineer, said in a written statement. “It took a couple of years of refining, but now it’s at the point where the model is pinpointing where to do safety projects, and we can pull the trigger on those projects.”

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