Traffic Data Can Pinpoint Trouble Spots; Program a Trooper Helped Develop Makes Info Available to Investigators

Article excerpt

Byline: Dana Treen

When 14-year-old Jordan Sommise was ejected and killed in a Baker County traffic accident Dec.1, it stung loved ones, friends and a man who has seen plenty of highway death.

"I couldn't go back to sleep," said Florida Highway Patrol Capt. Keith Gaston.

So last week Gaston began working on ways he and troopers could stem the loss of life on Baker roads.

"I'm very, very sensitive to children being killed," he said.

To start, he turned to a new traffic crash database he helped develop with work he was doing as a graduate student nearly 10 years ago.

Early each morning, the web-based Signal Four Analytics program housed at the University of Florida updates traffic crashes statewide and makes information from basic collision facts to more detailed data available to traffic investigators and others.

Until about six months ago, the Signal Four system named for the police code that designates traffic accidents was a pilot program.

In his office, Gaston pulled up interactive maps in the area surrounding where the Baker girl and two 17-year-old boys crashed on Claude Harvey Road around 9:45 p.m. after the driver lost control trying to pass another vehicle. All three were ejected.

On Gaston's computer screen, dots popped up along stretches of Interstate 10 and surrounding roads. Clicking on each one brought up information drawn from as many as 300 pieces of information included on a state accident form.

Time of day and location are important places to begin. Clusters of crashes appeared to occur around 5 p.m. or before.

"It looks like it's my early afternoon," Gaston said. "Do you think it has anything to do with the kids getting out of school at 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon?"

Gaston, a district commander in the Highway Patrol troop that covers nine counties in Northeast Florida, deploys state troopers in Baker County.

"We're going to work on them a little bit in that area," he said. Young drivers will be a focus, he said.

Duane Sommise, whose daughter died in the Dec. 1 accident, said Friday that increasing patrols might help but educating young drivers would have greater impact.

"This was a very back road," he said of Claude Harvey Road. An inexperienced driver might not be prepared for what can happen on a remote road, he said.

Gaston said warnings are an educational tool troopers use.

Ticketing motorists is not always the goal.

To find traffic patterns that pinpointed problem areas once meant digging through paper reports or going on intuition.

"You had to keep your ear out," Gaston said.

As a graduate student at the University of North Florida, Gaston said he wanted to develop an efficient database for collecting accident information. …