November 6, 2019

The Car Didn’t Bark: Why ‘Near Misses’ Are Critical

By Ian Goldsmith, Chief Product Officer at Waycare

In Conan Doyle’s famous story “Silver Blaze,” a racehorse is removed from its stable. Sherlock Holmes astutely observes that, “the dog didn’t bark” when the horse was stolen. This is the clue that solves the mystery.

When something happens, it generates data. But what about when something nearly happens, but doesn’t? For example, what happens when a car brakes heavily, narrowly avoiding a crash (i.e. the car doesn’t ‘bark’). That should be critical data – helping us solve mysteries, or prevent future crashes. But often it is not captured, or if it is, it goes unused.

At Waycare, we help manage traffic operations for agencies in the transportation industry. Our platform synthesizes connected vehicle data using machine learning. Connected vehicle (CV) data comes from sensors in the car or from devices like cell phones in the vehicle using navigation apps. CV data does not explicitly specify near misses, but it does tell us when a vehicle brakes hard, swerves, or accelerates rapidly. That occurs only when crashes are imminent.

Near-miss data is highly valuable. But why?

According to OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration), a near miss is an incident in which no property incurred damage and no personal injury was sustained, but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage or injury easily could have occurred. A near miss could be inches from a disastrous hit. Preventing that hit before it happens can save lives.

Suppose CV data identifies an area with a lot of heavy braking, but, as yet, no huge crashes. There’s a lot you can do to minimize the risk of a crash. You could change the speed limit or position police cruisers to slow traffic, or long-term alter the signage, change the road layout, and install speed bumps or other calming measures.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

The importance of near-miss data lies in the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Rather than simply gather data on crashes and fatalities, near-miss information can help reduce or prevent such disasters. Heavy braking, when identified and measured, can proactively initiate positioning resources at the site before a crash occurs. It can also alert road construction experts of structural problems.

In some ways, this issue resembles the difference between Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. Western medicine seeks to cure people after they fall ill. Practitioners of Chinese medicine want to keep people healthy and treat them before they become ill. In the West, we pay doctors for trying to cure illness. In China, traditional doctors are usually paid only if they keep people well.

Perhaps we need more Chinese medicine on our roads. Waycare is doing its best to make this happen.

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