What’s the Big Deal About Data-Driven Safety Planning?

For several years now, safety practitioners have been inundated with the concept of making data-driven decisions for safety projects. Well, what’s the big deal about data-driven safety planning? We’ll address several factors that affect these types of decisions, among them what initiatives influence data-driven decisions, the goals of a data-driven process, and what can we do to improve safety management decisions.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of blogs discussing transportation safety and why it matters. Primarily, it’s important because more than 40,000 people died on Americans roadways last year. That number is unacceptable, and we can do better. Follow along with this series to learn how data integration can lead to better identification and diagnoses of safety issues, optimized and correctly prioritized countermeasures, and monitored outcomes that will ultimately mean more lives saved.

Let’s set the table for this first post with a definition. Techopedia provides a simple but accurate definition of data-driven decisions as decisions supported by hard data instead of intuition or observation alone. This has been spurred on by the advances in technology that make data across an enterprise organization much more accessible. In turn, decisions are more empirically validated than 25-30 years ago when people’s experience and market savvy were relied on.

Safety initiatives

Who has embraced data-driven safety planning? There are several initiatives that have data-driven decisions at the heart of their missions. These initiatives affect both state and local safety policy decisions. Let’s look at a few.

Vision Zero is a multi-national road traffic safety effort, striving to achieve a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries involving road traffic. In North America alone there are more than 45 cities that claim to be Vision Zero cities. Vision Zero emphasizes data-driven safety policy. In addition, Vision Zero has as one of its core values transparency to the public regarding how system improvements are come to. This requires openness pertaining to the data and information used.

Zero Deaths is a Federal Highway Administration initiative that acknowledges that one death via our transportation systems is unacceptable. Zero Deaths uses a data-driven approach to identify specific areas for improvement. This approach leads transportation agencies to implement safety solutions that apply education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency services to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on the nation’s highways.

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Key metrics

What are the key metrics transportation agencies strive to achieve through data-driven safety planning? There are two perspectives to evaluate this from – desired safety outcomes and performance indicators. Let’s examine safety outcomes first.

The safety outcomes of a transportation agency are broad overarching goals it may strive to meet through a data-driven decision process. For example, an agency may set a goal to increase local revenues through a highly functioning transportation system. Another example would be better congestion mitigation through improved traffic operations. An agency might also have the goal of providing equitable transportation safety for all sectors of society. These guide the overall culture and safety charter of an agency.

A performance indicator is simply a measure to evaluate how successful an initiative is. In safety planning, this consists of things like a reduction of the number of fatalities or serious injuries that occur within a jurisdiction in a calendar year. But even though this indicator has shown great improvement over the last 40 years, 36,560 people still lost their lives in 2018 on our roads. The above-mentioned initiatives clearly state as part of their mission that even one death on the highway system is unacceptable.

Another example initiative is reducing the cost of repair to the infrastructure and personal vehicles caused by crashes. NHTSA’s 2010 study on economic and societal impacts stated that $76.1 billion dollars’ worth of property damage occurred on our nation’s highways. This is a tremendous cost to the traveling public and state and local transportation agencies. In this case, a performance indicator could be a targeted percentage reduction in property damage.

Making better decisions

What can be done to improve data-driven safety decisions? Some of the ways to make better data-driven decisions are institutional, and some are technical. We will look at both.

Several institutional factors contribute to better data-driven decisions. The first is strong leadership. Leadership establishes a culture that values the use of data to set priorities and allocate resources. Strong leadership embraces using a collection of tools including performance measurements, data visualization, geospatial maps, and advanced analytics. Enterprise collaboration is another key component for data-driven decisions. This is driven by leadership that is committed to ensuring that all departments and/or agencies are working to ensure cooperation to meet the jurisdiction’s safety objectives.

Technical factors, too, impact data-driven safety decisions. A flexible data model is critical to effective safety planning. The data model must be robust and extendible and needs to support federal and local requirements. Exceptional data fusion capabilities are necessary to leverage the wealth of data that contributes to effective safety planning. A holistic methodology to bring together all the salient data and components for decision making is essential, as are open technology platforms for today and the future, which ensure that we can address our immediate needs today and accommodate the changing nature of safety planning.

Data-driven safety decisions are a big deal. We’ve looked at several factors that impact data-driven safety decisions, including federal initiatives and performance metrics that direct progress. In addition, we’ve looked at factors that can improve data-driven safety decisions. Next time, we’ll examine how to solve the puzzle of data integration within data-driven safety decisions. Until then, check out our transportation industry page to see how Hexagon can enable your organization to make data-driven decisions.