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LSU Highway Safety Research Group Helps Louisiana Increase Safety Standards Statewide

DOTD-supported group helps information get processed faster and strategy get employed better.

Highway safety is a topic that concerns every one of us, whether you are a driver, a passenger or pedestrian. Every day, we hear about vehicular fatalities; every day, we enter into the world of transportation with very little to protect ourselves aside from a thin shell of metal hurtling down the road at 70 miles per hour. Since 1999, Louisiana has averaged nearly 160,000 automobile crashes resulting in more than 900 deaths each year.

In 1994, Helmut Schneider, director of the Highway Safety Research Group, or HSRG, and Ourso Family Distinguished Professor of Information Systems at LSU's E. J. Ourso College of Business, started analyzing crash data in Louisiana at the request of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, or LHSC, and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, or LA DOTD.

LSU began having student workers manually enter paper crash report data into the state's database. At that time, the crash data being entered was nearly three years old. Today, most of the crash data is entered into the LSU-maintained database within 30 days thanks to the efforts of university researchers.

In 2003, LHSC requested LA DOTD take over the responsibility for the state's crash database. In the same year, Schneider formed the HSRG in the Department of Information Systems & Decisions Sciences at LSU, and was awarded a grant from LA DOTD to collect, maintain, analyze and report crash data for the state. In 2005, the HSRG released a software application, LACRASH, as the state's supported electronic crash reporting software application. LACRASH is used by law enforcement officers to electronically complete, route and submit crash reports.

"Although Louisiana crash report forms have been standardized for years, they had to be filled out by hand and mailed or faxed in," said Cory Hutchinson, associate director of the HSRG. "We took them and made them electronic. Any law enforcement agency in the state can use this and the associated software free of charge; in addition, we will go to the agency and install it for them, train their employees and offer help desk assistance at no cost."

The difference, according to Hutchinson, is impressive.

"When a crash report is completed by hand, it takes approximately 122 days to make its way through the system," he said. "LACRASH completes the process within seven days."

LACRASH, in its original form, was initially released in December 2004, with a handful of agencies going online on Jan.1, 2005. Currently, more than 150 agencies across the state use it, and the benefits of working with the system have grown exponentially.

"Law enforcement agencies can apply for funding through the Louisiana Traffic Coordinating Committee for laptops so that their information gathering can be more mobile," said Hutchinson. "We also provide cardswipes, so that the officers don't have to type all the information – he or she can just swipe a driver's license, and it's all automatically entered into their computer."

But LSU's support for traffic safety doesn't stop there.

"We put applied research to work to provide decision makers with the information they need to improve traffic safety," said Schneider, who is also associated dean of research and economic development in the E. J. Ourso College of Business. Research in areas such as business intelligence and analytics can be used to make sense of vast amounts of crash information and to discover crash patters that may be otherwise missed.

For instance, working with the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program Division of the Louisiana State Police, the HSRG has developed a web-based GIS application to visually analyze commercial motor vehicle accident areas and intersection points. They look for places with recurring accidents and build models showing any overlap between areas where police conduct regular vehicle inspections and where the most accidents occur.

The HSRG plans to conduct a similar pilot research project with citations next year, developing models that could determine points where more frequent police checks might benefit the overall safety of drivers on Louisiana's highways.

"We are way ahead of the vast majority of states in the United States with regard to using timely crash data information to improve traffic safety in the state," said Hutchinson.

For more information about the HSRG, visit http://hsrg.lsu.edu/.
For more information about LACRASH, visit http://lacrash.lsu.edu/.