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Waze data can help predict car crashes and cut response time

Originally published in Wired.

HERE’S THE THING about car crashes: They are, blessedly, pretty rare. In the US, nine people are injured in motor vehicle crashes for every 100 million miles traveled in cars, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Here’s the thing about computer-based models: They’re not great at predicting rare events. “Accidents are going to be rare anyway, and models tend to miss rare events because they just don’t occur frequently enough,” says Tristan Glatard, an associate professor of computer science at Concordia University, where he’s working with colleagues to build models that might predict car crashes before they happen. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”

Some good things might happen if someone could find that needle – if they managed to transform streets and roads into streams of data and predict what might happen there. Emergency responders might arrive at crashes a bit faster. Government officials might spot a problematic road—and fix it.

OK, it’s not quite predicting the future. But it’s getting eerily close. So even though it’s hard, and often expensive, and always complicated, cities, researchers, and the federal Department of Transportation are working to do just that.

In May, a team of medical researchers with UCLA and the University of California, Irvine published a paper in the journal Jama Surgery suggesting that places in California might be able to use data from the crowdsourced traffic app Waze to cut emergency response times. (Waze has a four-year-old program that gives cities traffic data in exchange for real-time information about problems its users might want to avoid, like sudden road closures.) By comparing the data from the Google-owned service with crash data from the California Highway Patrol, the researchers concluded that Waze users notify the app of crashes an average of 2 minutes, 41 seconds before anyone alerts law enforcement.

Read the complete article by AArian Marshall: https://www.wired.com/story/waze-data-help-predict-car-crashes-cut-response-time/


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