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Intoxicated driving continues to be a top concern for the transportation community. Now, new hot-spot mapping techniques developed by Roadway Safety Institute (RSI) researchers will give law enforcement agencies a powerful tool to help combat this pressing challenge.

“Our latest research provides a greater understanding of the relationships between alcohol-related crashes and the locations where they occur, then uses this understanding to develop new, more effective methods of implementing safety campaigns,” says William Schneider, an associate professor in the University of Akron Department of Civil Engineering and an RSI researcher. “To reduce the number and severity of alcohol-related crashes, we have taken hot-spot mapping to new depths by closely examining the spatial distribution of crashes and identifying how the location of these crashes affects safety campaigns.”

Researchers began by using innovative data techniques to conduct an analysis of motor vehicle crash data and identify hot spots—areas with significantly more crashes—for motor vehicle crashes in Ohio. The advantage of these techniques over traditional mapping methods came from improvements in calculating crash cluster locations, identifying patterns over space and time, and understanding the influence of geographical patterns on the locations of crashes.

With the accuracy of hot spots improved, researchers then examined the optimal times to implement safety campaigns in the identified areas. “Many hot-spot mapping techniques analyze crashes as if they all occurred at the same time,” Schneider says. “By considering crashes in this way, some key influences may be lost, and the efficiency of safety campaigns reduced.” Schneider says the research team’s method examines how clusters of crashes occur and disappear as time progresses. This will allow law enforcement agencies to shift patrols as crash locations move, thus improving the overall efficiency of safety campaigns.

The new mapping techniques also help mitigate another shortfall of less-sophisticated methods: a focus on large population centers. The researchers found that while the strict use of population density provided unfavorable results, identifying hot spots through either the frequency or the societal crash costs varies the resulting hot-spot location. “These two strategies can be used in different ways: crash frequency hot spots allow for high-visibility or mass-target campaigns to be optimized, while the use of societal cost best targets high-value crash occurrences,” Schneider says.

Through the use of hot-spot mapping, safety campaigns to reduce alcohol-related crashes could be improved with new methods of patrolling for intoxicated drivers. “Our hot-spot maps show the locations where intoxicated drivers are likely to be present and include route optimization models that could be used to guide officers to these locations,” Schneider says. “These new models were also compared with traditional methods of corridor patrolling to aid captains of jurisdictions in the decision-making process when they are deciding where to patrol.”

According to Schneider, this hot-spot-driven method of patrolling will improve efficiency by allowing enforcement agencies to pass through more alcohol-related crash hot spots per minute and mile. “By improving how officers patrol, more people may be deterred from intoxicated driving and alcohol-related crashes may ultimately be reduced,” he says.

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