At their annual conference on rural safety yesterday, researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Excellence in Rural Safety released the prototype of an interesting and useful new website, Safe Road Maps. As they characterize it, the system is “a ground-breaking tool that combines information from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System with Google Maps to give you a visual representation of traffic safety across the entire nation.”
The results promise to be quite extraordinary. “With this system, you can enter an address and view the roads that have the highest number of traffic fatalities in a specified area. You can also view dynamically generated maps that show how public policy has been implemented to improve transportation safety by region. Our hope is that this site brings both increased safety and awareness to transportation policy makers and private citizens.”
The website is based on information gleaned by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As NHTS describes this resource, “the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) contains data on a census of fatal traffic crashes within the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. To be included in FARS, a crash must involve a motor vehicle travelling on a trafficway customarily open to the public and result in the death of a person (occupant of a vehicle or a non-occupant) within 30 days of the crash. FARS has been operational since 1975 and has collected information on over 989,451 motor vehicle fatalities and collects information on over 100 different coded data elements that characterizes [sic] the crash, the vehicle, and the people involved.”
One limitation of the prototype system now being released is that only a single year of data is available for analysis. At present the system uses FARS data from 2006, which is the most recent data currently available from NHTSA. This 2006 dataset contains 38,588 accidents resulting in 42,642 fatalities, and involving 57,943 vehicles and 98,040 people.
Despite this limitation, the tool is already clearly useful. To test its capabilities, I input my own local address and requested a search radius of 2 miles. This produced a report of a single fatal accident at a distance of 1.4 miles from my residence, in the form of a symbol superimposed on a Google satellite map of the site, along with the rudimentary details of the case (state case number and number of fatalities). The satellite image could be changed into a map, a terrain map, or a hybrid map/satellite image. Clicking on the site symbol produced a Visual Earth satellite map of the location side-by-side with a Google map of the site, along with more extensive details, including the date and time of the accident, road type, whether or not the death(s) were “alcohol-related”, restraint type, “person type” (i.e., driver, passenger, pedestrian), age, sex, and whether or not a given involved party were deceased.
Expanding upon this initial search I then sought fatal accidents within a 5 mile radius, and discovered eight such accidents along with similar levels of detail.
You might use a similar exercise to check out your commuter route to work, to discover possible traffic safety problems in your neighborhood or community, or to document a case for a traffic signal.
The Safe Roads Map website includes links to such other useful resources as the FARS Encyclopedia of traffic fatality statistics (1994-2006), reports and publications, along with links to certain advocacy organizations.