Despite tireless efforts from our road authorities, it remains an unsettling reality that drivers in regional and remote areas of Australia are at greater risk of road crashes than vehicle users in our major cities. In fact, 65% of all road fatalities in Australia were in regional and remote areas.
The establishment of the Australian Government’s Office of Road Safety earlier this year is testament to the drive that exists within government to make a material change to these numbers. The Office exists to provide national leadership around reducing road trauma in Australia and works with Australian state authorities to implement innovative strategies aimed at tackling the issue.
But a challenge for the Office – and indeed all transport agencies – is identifying and prioritising projects that will have the greatest impact in saving lives and preventing serious injury.
An approach gaining fast momentum with transport agencies globally, is using location-based analytics to not only identify the most dangerous roads, but to pinpoint the exact reasons why they are black spots. The resulting insights are used to create policy change to address these reasons.
Using location analytics to identify high-risk regional roads and prioritise safety projects is not new to the sector – we’ve been working with road authorities in all states to do just this for many years. However, the focus on this type of analysis has typically been retrospective, reviewing crash data to identify black spots and risks.
Now, advancements in predictive analytics is taking this one step further, allowing authorities to determine the location of the next black spot, which isn’t always apparent when looking at existing crash data alone. This new capability is especially valuable for low-volume rural roads which have typically been difficult to categorise, due to the seemingly random nature of accidents in these remote areas.
Our colleagues over the ditch, the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) together with Abley Transportation Consultants, are leading the charge in this emerging area. NZTA and Abley set out to develop a spatial road safety risk assessment methodology that specifically targets these low-volume rural roads. Essentially, they wanted to be able to assess the safety of horizontal curves—those gradual turns that connect two adjoining strips of highway—based on a road’s geometric and operating speed features. Abley (an Esri partner that specialises in road safety strategies) met this objective by using the ArcGIS platform to build a geospatial risk prediction tool.
You can read a full rundown of the project and its methodology in this case study – but in essence, Abley compared 10 years of crash data against horizontal curves across the entire NZ road network. They discovered almost 70% of loss-of-control crashes occurred on 20 percent of curves classified as unacceptable or undesirable in at least one direction. This finding suggests that by targeting a small percentage of high-risk curves for further investigation and intervention—such as improved signage, surfacing, or side protection—road agencies could greatly reduce the likelihood of additional crashes occurring at these high-risk locations.
This appears to be the only known road-network-wide geospatial tool designed specifically to help road agencies identify and prioritise high-risk horizontal curves without needing to collect field data – and its value has already been recognized by agencies here in Australia.
Because the approach analyses the risks independent of crash information, road agencies can now proactively target interventions toward high-risk locations and have confidence that safety will be improved— whether or not the location has an established crash problem. Essentially, it bridges the gap between being aware of major safety issues on high-speed roads and coming up with detailed strategies to reduce the likelihood and consequences of crashes that happen on horizontal curves.
The methodology has already been implemented across all high-speed roads in NZ; and here in Australia, the Centre for Road Safety in New South Wales, Australia, has started rolling it out across 37,000km of state-owned roads. Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads is also in the process of applying the approach to its road network.
As you can see, the role of location analytics is expanding within the transport sector, and for good reason. This is likely to be a major focus of next month’s ITS World Congress being held in Singapore. If you’re planning on attending the Congress, we’ll have a team there to take you through the latest global best-practice applications of GIS, including Esri’s Global Transport Lead Terry Bills.
To find out more about location-based analytics for transport, call 1800 870 750 or send us an email.