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Published on January 17th, 2019 | by Steve Hanley


Drones Can Speed Up Traffic Accident Analysis To Make Driving Safer

January 17th, 2019 by  

NHTSA says that in 2016, 7 million traffic accidents were reported to the police in America. 37,461 people died as a result of those accidents and another 3,144,000 were injured, according to official estimates. Many of those collisions are what experts call “secondary accidents” that result when motorists encounter slowed or stopped traffic ahead and fail to slow down in time.

3D prints of accident scenes can help law enforcement and first responders better study and document vehicular crash scenes. (Erin Easterling/Purdue University)

Often, those secondary accidents are worse than the initial accidents that caused the slowdown or stoppage in the first place. The Federal Highway Administration says the likelihood of a secondary accident occurring is 24 times higher during the time police and other highway officials are assessing and documenting a crash scene.

“It’s the people at the back of the queue where you have traffic stopped who are most vulnerable and an approaching inattentive driver doesn’t recognize that traffic is stopped or moving very slowly until it is too late,” says Darcy Bullock, a professor of civil engineering and head of the Joint Transportation Research Program at Purdue University. “The occurrence of these secondary crashes can be reduced by finding ways to safely expedite the clearance time of the original crash.” Conventional mapping of a severe or fatal crash can take two to three hours depending on the severity of the accident, according to Bullock.

The Purdue researchers have begun using drones to document and assess crash sites. “Our procedure for data collection using a drone can map a scene in five to eight minutes, allowing public safety officers to open the roads much quicker after an accident,” said Ayman Habib, a professor of civil engineering at Purdue who developed the photogrammetric procedures being used.

People like Elon Musk are spending billions to develop autonomous driving system in the hope of reducing highway deaths and injuries. It’s possible that drone-based accident investigation could play an important role in achieving that goal.

John Bullock is a sophomore in the School of Mechanical Engineering, and worked with local public safety officials to develop field procedures and and create ways to make 3D representations of crash sites. The orthorectified images clearly illustrate the position of vehicles, infrastructure, and general terrain adjacent to the crash site, according to Science Daily.

The drones are programmed to use a grid-type path and record about 100 photos in two-second intervals. Those images are used to develop an accurate scale map that, when combined with photos taken at the scene, provides enough data to create a 3D print of the scene.

“The technology is so much faster than traditional ground-based measurements and provides a much better comprehensive documentation that it opens up all different kinds of research,” Habib says. “It can provide high-quality maps, imagery, and models for post-crash investigation by engineers and public safety officials. This technology has many other civil engineering applications beyond crash scene mapping and can be used to estimate the volume of material needed or used for a construction project within a couple of percentage points.”

The Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office used drones to map crash scenes 20 times in 2018 and another 15 times in support of other law enforcement activities. “Overall, it can cut 60 percent off the down time for traffic flow following a crash,” says Sheriff Robert Hainje.

“The collaboration with Purdue faculty and students has been tremendously effective in helping our law enforcement, first responders and special teams. The drone technology with the thermal imaging capability helps with all types of emergencies such as search and rescue, aerial support over water for diver teams or in wooded areas and for fugitive apprehension,” Hainje says.

If only Lieutenant Philip Gerard had access to this technology, one of America’s favorite television shows of the 60s might never have made it to prime time.

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. His motto is, "Life is not measured by how many breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away!" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

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