Purdue Researchers Are Using Big Data To Make Work Zones Safer

May 29, 2021

A detour warning sign for roadwork near Elkhart, Indiana.
Credit Justin Hicks/IPB News

Indiana saw 32 highway work zone deaths in 2019, the most recent year with available data. That’s higher than any year in almost a decade. But researchers at Purdue University are trying to use data to stop accidents before they happen.

Transportation researchers at Purdue started by selecting a few Indiana highways and looked at data from so-called connected vehicles: car and trucks that log driving habits. Then they looked for areas where a lot of people tend to slam on their brakes. They found a correlation between those spots and crashes.

Darcy Bullock, director of the Joint Transportation Research Program, said with that information, officials can prevent sometimes fatal accidents before they even happen.

“[It’s about] where is this crowdsourced information telling us that we have an opportunity on the road to make a safety improvement,” he said. “If we can reduce those hard-braking events, everybody wins.”

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Bullock said they’re already working with the state transportation department to strategically place new warning trucks and even sending alerts to traffic apps on cell phones. 

The researchers also hope to use insights from the data to one day inform how autonomous vehicles and farm equipment might operate in the future.

Contact reporter Justin at jhicks@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @Hicks_JustinM.