The Virginia Tech Center for Geospatial Information Technology (CGIT) was recently honored as the recipient of the 2019 Governor’s Transportation Safety Award in the category of Innovation in Highway Safety. This is the first year for an award in this category.
Kitty Hancock, associate professor in civil engineering, works with graduate students and CGIT on campus to geocode and supplement the crash data and to solve problems such as identifying the highest crash intersections and using data mining techniques to extract information from the text that police officers write in their reports about the crashes and why they occurred. This information can also be used for on-demand support when officials ask for more information about a crash and what can potentially be done to avoid a similar circumstance in the future. While the ultimate goal is to reduce crashes and fatalities, there is also a goal to reduce the cost associated with these crashes. These costs include not only the actual dollars associated with the crash but also the costs associated with traffic delay. A fender bender in northern Virginia can cost 40 minutes in someone’s commute to work. Multiply that by 250,000 vehicles and that is a significant amount of lost work time. “The more we can minimize that, the more value comes back to society,” Hancock said. “If we can understand what is causing crashes, we can provide tools to minimize them and provide savings all around.”
“The ultimate goal of my current research is to reduce fatalities on the roads.” Hancock aims to do this through her partnership with the Highway Safety Office in the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In an effort to improve safety, her team developed a process to look at every individual crash, which consists of about 130,000 annually, and to locate it as accurately as possible, even down to the lane it occurred in, based on information provided on the Virginia crash form. They then take this a step further and provides specific reports that the DMV uses in workshops and that jurisdictions use for grant applications and other planning activities. Hancock’s research group focuses on the human factors side of the data, including enforcement and programming, while other researchers focus on the road infrastructure side of crash data.
Her career wasn’t always focused on highway safety though. When Hancock first graduated with her bachelors degree from Colorado State University, she started working at Southwest Research Institute testing roadside barriers. She then moved on to consulting in Washington, DC, but found that wasn’t what she wanted to do, which pushed her to go back and earn her advanced degrees from Vanderbilt University. Throughout her career, she has studied highway safety, freight operations and planning, and geospatially enabling decision making in relation to transportation problems. During her time at Vanderbilt, she discovered geographic information systems (GIS) and started using that to find solutions to problems. That expertise enabled her to partner on a wide variety of projects, which she continues to do. “My partnership with the DMV has been really great and, at this point in my career, I am excited to focus back where I started, on highway safety,” Hancock said.
Hancock and CGIT will be recognized with the 2019 Governor’s Transportation Safety Award at an awards ceremony in Roanoke on May 22, 2019.