Data is a key support tool for developing evidence-based road safety policies. However, we are quite far from both disposing the right data and appropriately using them.
Today, very often, we look where the data are and not where the problems are. For example, we miss very critical information not only about risk exposure, like the time and distance travelled by pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, but also about the Key Performance Indicators of the road users, the infrastructure and the vehicles (speeding, distraction, helmet use, vehicle fleet age, road maintenance). Obviously, only crash data are not enough to identify neither the real dimension nor the causes of road accidents. We claim working on road safety problems, but we do not dispose a lot of critical information, all over Europe. In a way, we work well in blind, driven rather by road user impressions than by evidence.
So far, road safety data were used to support Authorities and Industry decision-makers to support their legislative, technical and other choices, including sometimes the related safety promotion campaigns. However, lately, the wealth of data being available by the wide range of new technologies and their applications opens a totally new era to support not only decision-makers but also road users at their everyday strategic, operational and tactical decisions.
Today, several traffic data providers dispose and can provide new data highly useful to support traffic safety choices of the Authorities and the Industry decision-makers. The combination of new data on traveller patterns with crash data and safety performance indicators (never available in this detail so far) present a much higher potential to identify quite detailed road accident causes and guide to the appropriate customised countermeasures, especially in the complex urban environments.
However, most importantly, new safety data present a great potential to support traveller mobility and safety choices, lead to significant behaviour changes and improve significantly the safety of the individual travellers and subsequently of the whole population. Customised feedback on safe driving performance from smartphone telematics, together with fatigue and alcohol feedback from wearable activity trackers, and time-sensitive safety heatmaps based on crash and performance indicators can guide road users to safer mobility choices and upgrade their travelling safety.
The explosion of safety data requires explosive needs for safety data analysis and the role of research and academia becomes even more important. Not only big data analyses require equivalent big efforts, but also and most importantly multi-disciplinary approaches are required. On one hand, data scientists should be able to understand the mobility and safety context and on the other hand, safety experts should couple their expertise with data science skills. Furthermore, special extra effort and skills are required in order that the scientific findings are translated into clear political messages more easily digestable by decision-makers and society.
The recent ITF Report on new data for transport safety demonstrates quite a few new uses of these new data, destined to support both the decision-makers and the travellers. A great new market for transport safety data emerges, and with the right data management business models, significant safety behaviour changes will soon be possible with subsequent significant safety improvements. New road safety data is the new driver to further enhance safety in the European cities.
Contribution at the 30th POLIS Conference, Brussels, November 2019