Here’s an idea that maybe is overdue: better driving through science. More and more, car companies are pushing automotive extras that address some of the inherent dangers of driving: warning lights that indicate when someone is floating in your blind spot, cars that parallel park themselves, cameras that let you see what’s happening directly behind you.
There are cities doing the same thing — applying science and statistics to road accidents, and that analytical approach is paying dividends.
On the Northeast Avalon, car accidents are an everyday occurrence; serious ones make the news almost every day, while the RNC warns about excessive speed and driver inattention.
Virtually every police officer interviewed on morning radio shows asks drivers to slow down. It is impossible to drive in the city without meeting drivers blithely talking into their cellphones and cars that apparently were never equipped with turn signals.
Edmonton, however, is looking at traffic safety differently. A recent Globe and Mail article pointed out how Edmonton’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) has gone heavily into road safety science in different ways, including conducting an analytical examination of where accidents are happening, and why, and doing research into driver behaviour. All of that is overlaid with finding ways to focus on and deal with drivers who travel faster than conditions warrant.
And the numbers are stellar: in 2007, the city was logging more than 28,000 collisions a year, 5,513 of which involved either injury or death.
Last year, that number was down by more than 38 per cent, with collisions falling to just over 23,000 accidents, and with the injury and death total falling to 3,385 — even though Edmonton’s population grew by around 11 per cent during that period.
What is Edmonton’s OTS doing? There are more than 200 digital signs warning drivers of deteriorating road conditions and road congestion; data is being collected and circulated to police on high-risk drivers; high-risk road design is being mapped by accident statistics and the problems are then being addressed.
All of it is being done by crunching the numbers. In other words, the information is all there, as long as there’s someone collecting and analyzing it.
One telling piece of information? As the Globe and Mail article points out, the OTS has been able to build a 90-per-cent accurate computer model that shows collision trends in bad weather — in plenty of time for the unit’s mobile signs to warn drivers of prospective dangers.
Certainly the first cause of any collision is the behaviour of the drivers involved. Many of us drive too fast and too carelessly.
But there’s lots we can learn and apply from information that’s already at our fingertips — and as Edmonton is showing, using that information can make a critical difference and save lives. It’s the right solution at the right time in the right place — what a concept.