Drone Research Report Reducing Accidents at Crash Sites

February 18, 2019

Idling in a long highway line of slowed or stopped traffic on a busy highway can be more than an inconvenience for drivers and highway safety officers. It is one of the most vulnerable times for “secondary accidents,” which often can be worse than an original source of the slowdown, according to the Federal Highway Administration, which reports that secondary crashes go up by a factor of almost 24 during the time that highway safety officials are assessing and documenting the crash site.

In 2016, there were more than 7 million police-reported traffic crashes in which 37,461 people were killed and an estimated 3,144,000 were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Researchers at Purdue University say these crash assessments could be safer, faster and more accurate if responders used a drone technology they have developed.

“It’s the people at the back of the queue where you have traffic stopped who are most vulnerable and an approaching inattentive driver doesn’t recognize that traffic is stopped or moving very slowly until it is too late,” said Darcy Bullock, Purdue professor of Civil Engineering and Joint Transportation Research Program director. “The occurrence of these secondary crashes can be reduced by finding ways to safely expedite the clearance time of the original crash.”

Conventional mapping of a severe crash can take two to three hours, according to Bullock. “Our procedure for data collection using a drone can map a scene in five to eight minutes, allowing public safety officers to open the roads much quicker after an accident,” said Ayman Habib, the Purdue professor of Civil Engineering who developed the procedures.

The technology is already in use. The Tippecanoe County, Indiana sheriff’s office used drones to map crash scenes 20 times in 2018 and another 15 times in the same year to support specialty law enforcement teams. “Overall, it can cut 60 percent off the down time for traffic flow following a crash,” said Capt. Robert Hainje of the Tippecanoe County sheriff’s office. Hainje said the drones can also help with search and rescue, aerial support for search teams over water or in wooded areas and for fugitive apprehension.

John Bullock, a student in the School of Mechanical Engineering, worked with public safety colleagues to develop procedures for processing images that illustrate the position of vehicles, infrastructure and general terrain adjacent to the crash site. The drones record about 100 photos in two-second intervals. This data is used to develop an accurate scale map that with photos at the scene provides enough data to create a 3D print of the scene.

“The technology is so much faster than traditional ground-based measurements and provides a much better comprehensive documentation that it opens up all different kinds of research,” Habib said. “It can provide high-quality maps, imagery, and models for post-crash investigation by engineers and public safety officials.

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Insurance Journal West February 18, 2019
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