Technology That’s Improving Public Safety in Austin, Texas

Traffic fatality or injury statistics can be difficult to comprehend emotionally. Each number represents a life lost or a family in pain. Every death is someone’s loved one, and most of these injuries and fatalities are preventable.

Vision Zero is an Austin community initiative to reduce crashes to zero through street improvements, policy changes, and education. How has city technology improved city safety in Austin, and how can we work together to accomplish Vision Zero? Read to find out.

The Importance of City Safety

In a perfect world, roads would be safe enough that we wouldn’t lose families to traffic fatalities and parents could watch their kids leave on a weekend road trip without worrying they might not make it home.

But, in our current society, no trip is risk-free. According to the World Health Organization, motor vehicle crashes account for more than one million fatalities around the world each year and 20 to 50 million serious injuries. In 2021, Austin saw 120 traffic fatalities.

Traffic safety is a critical part of everyday life. Pedestrians and drivers use roads and sidewalks to get to work, school, stores, and home. Safety technology affects everyone and will play a significant role in reaching safety goals in Austin.

Austin, Texas Safety Goals

As mentioned above, Austin’s goal is to reduce the number of people injured or killed in car crashes to zero by building a safe transportation network with the city and other community partners.

Vision Zero has been around since 1990 and has significantly reduced traffic fatalities and injuries in cities where it was implemented. The plan focuses on a belief that serious crashes are preventable public health issues, not unavoidable accidents.

How does Vision Zero work? Vision Zero uses crash data from Austin Police Department Reports to develop a network that identifies streets with relatively frequent severe injuries and fatalities. This network, known as the High-Injury Network (HIN), prioritizes streets and intersections that can be improved through engineering, education, and enforcement intervention.

Austin’s HIN covers just 8% of the city’s streets but accounts for nearly 60% of all severe injuries and fatal crashes.

The goal is to reach zero fatalities, but what safety technology will get us there?

Safety Technology Projects

Vision Zero combines high-technology and low-technology methods to reduce injuries and fatalities in high-accident areas. Austin is one of 49 communities in the U.S. that has adopted Vision Zero and one of four in Texas.

To qualify as a Vision Zero community, the city must:

  • Set a clear goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities and severe injuries
  • Have the mayor publicly commit to Vision Zero
  • Set a plan or strategy with a clear time frame
  • Incorporate key departments into the plan, such as transportation, public health, and mayors’ offices

Here are three city technology projects Austin is implementing as part of its plan.

1. Connected Vehicle Pedestrian Crosswalk Warning System

In 2021, Austin received pilot technology known as the Connected Vehicle Pedestrian Crosswalk Warning System for testing. The system protects pedestrians by informing drivers when they are approaching an active crosswalk. When someone pushes the crosswalk’s push button, the system automatically alerts nearby drivers that pedestrians are crossing the street.

Vehicles can connect to the system through wireless technology, which displays warnings and basic messages to drivers. The system can also communicate with non-connected drivers with rapid-flashing rectangular signals on both sides of the road.

The pilot will measure the system’s effectiveness in reducing the accident rate at crosswalks. In 2019 (the most recent year with complete available data unaffected by COVID-19), the NHTSA reported 6,205 pedestrian fatalities. If the Connected Vehicle Pedestrian Crosswalk Warning System proves effective, the city will create a plan for retrofitting old infrastructure with the new safety technology.

2. Near-Miss Detection Systems

3M and MicroTraffic developed an AI detection system that tracks near-misses at intersections. The technology currently monitors select locations across Austin, where it measures near misses and proactively identifies opportunities for safety improvements.

Near misses include close calls and potential accidents between vehicles or involving pedestrians and bikers. After gathering data, 3M and MicroTraffic make cost-effective safety improvement recommendations, such as high-visibility signs and crosswalk markings.

The final step involves reassessing the improvements and monitoring system effectiveness. Safe city technology like this ensures Austin remains at the forefront of innovation that can eliminate fatal crashes.

3. Velodyne LiDAR

Austin’s Smart Mobility office has partnered with Velodyne Lidar to test their AI-powered LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology. Smart Mobility is currently testing the system’s effectiveness at generating real-time traffic data and detecting all vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists.

LiDAR can recognize near-miss incidents and Advanced Traffic Signal Performance Metrics and Safety Analytics (ATSPM). Unlike many camera-based monitoring systems, LiDAR’s laser sensors work in any weather or lighting conditions. A single sensor at the corner of an intersection can create a detailed 3D model for all road users.

The Future of Austin as a Safety and Mobility City

The primary purpose of piloting this new technology is to create a system that reduces the number of auto-pedestrian crashes and fatalities. The potential benefit is encouraging. According to the NHTSA, connected vehicle technologies could potentially reduce accident frequency by 80%.

If the pilots go well, the city will likely install more detection systems at other crosswalks and retrofit older technology where necessary. Smart Mobility’s goal is to find technologies that will move people and products in faster, safer, cleaner, and more affordable ways. The city’s efforts may also benefit from modern innovations and improvements in electric vehicles and safety features that protect individual drivers.

Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

The City of Austin’s goals to improve city safety could benefit traveling families and inspire other communities to do the same. However, there may still be instances where you or a loved one are involved in an accident because of someone else’s negligence. The aftermath of a crash can be confusing and exhausting, particularly if a family member has been severely injured.

If you or a loved one are in pain due to an accident, please give us a call. At Sandoval & James, we care about people, not property damage. Even if you have been rejected by another firm, we may still be able to help.

No matter where a person comes from or what their current situation is, they’re part of the Sandoval & James family. Protect yourself and your family today!

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