How analyzing 'near-miss' traffic collisions could help save lives

This information provided by Smart Cities Council North America.

The numbers are grim. In 2016, traffic collisions were responsible for approximately 40,000 deaths and more than four million injuries in the U.S. And severe congestion has slowed traffic in cities around the world as more and more people move to urban areas.

The story below outlines a collaborative effort between the city of Bellevue, Washington, the University of Washington and Council Lead Partner Microsoft on a new approach to predicting where traffic collisions are likely to happen. The project is a very good fit with Bellevue's smart city ambitions, as well as a solid example of the power of collaboration. — Doug Peeples


The project, named "Video Analytics Towards Vision Zero," will incorporate new technologies to analyze traffic camera videos of near-miss traffic collisions to predict where accidents are most likely to happen.

"Video analytics turns the traditional model of reacting to crashes on it head. It will give us tools to predict where incidents are going to occur so we can take countermeasures in a proactive way. It could be a game changer, not just for us, but for cities around the world," said Dave Berg, Bellevue's transportation director.

The technology has the potential to be able to predict the location, time and type of collisions. And it provides, as the city describes it, "zero-cost learning opportunities."

"Computer vision algorithms applied to video feeds from traffic cameras have a huge potential of improving traffic flows and reducing traffic crashes and fatalities," explained Microsoft Research Distinguished Scientist Victor Bahl. " We are working diligently on this because we truly believe the societal impact will be significant."

The project is part of a much broader collaboration with organizations throughout North America working on Vision Zero, an international push to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. And organizers of the Bellevue  project are encouraging as many people as possible to participate. They will be asked to watch traffic videos located on the project web page and use tracking tools to identify objects and movement. In fact, citizen participation is essential for the success of the project.

"In this case we have the opportunity to work with great partners to make the biggest difference of all – saving lives," said Bellevue Mayor John Stokes. "Everyone who participates in the Video Analytics project can make a small contribution that could add up to a  big impact in keeping our walkers, bicyclists and drivers safe."

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.