Qin Helps Wisconsin DOT

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation awarded two grants to Qin.

Xiao Qin, associate professor, civil and environmental engineering is working with WisDOT to help reduce traffic deaths. Listen to Qin’s recent interview on Milwaukee Public Radio.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation recently awarded two grants to Xiao Qin, associate professor, civil and environmental engineering.

Through one award, Qin and his team will identify potential causes for the recent surge in Wisconsin’s traffic fatalities, a number that rose from 498 in 2014 to 550 in 2015. Through the other, he will help WisDOT update technologies, a necessary move in order for Wisconsin to receive DOT-apportioned highway funds, including those for improving safety.

After 50 Years of Decline, Wisconsin Traffic Fatalities Rose in 2014

For the crash fatality study, WisDOT awarded Qin $100,000 to identify the causes contributing to a 10% increase in deaths. The study is titled “Identifying Highly Correlated Variables Related to the Potential Causes of Reportable Wisconsin Traffic Crashes.”

This award stems from an unprecedented call to action on the federal level by the DOT, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the White House to discover why—after five decades of declining traffic fatalities—the nation saw a 7.2% increase in 2014. The last single-year increase of this magnitude was in 1966, when fatalities rose 8.1% from the previous year.

Wisconsin saw a similar increase, Qin says, with 52 more traffic fatalities than average in 2015. The annual average is about 500.

In addition, bicycle and pedestrian fatalities increased across the nation to a level not seen in 20 years. This grant’s co-P.I. (principal investigator) is Robert Schneider, associate professor, urban planning, from UWM’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning, who is a bicycle and pedestrian safety expert.

The WisDOT grant was extremely competitive and marks UWM’s rise as a center for transportation studies.

In his past research, Qin used statistical modeling and engineering techniques to analyze factors contributing to truck crashes, weather-related vehicle crashes and more. He has analyzed numerous factors – from roadway design to the number of cars on a stretch of road — to create formulas that estimate the number of vehicle crashes that will occur in an area.

Possible Causes of Increased Deaths

According to Qin, factors that underlie the recent increase in fatalities could include the following.

Human factors and behaviors:

  • impaired driving due to drugs, alcohol, sleepiness or fatigue
  • driving more hours
  • not wearing seat belts
  • driving significantly faster or slower than other drivers
  • engaging in distractions while driving, including texting

Roadway factors:

  • highway geometric characteristics, or the physical elements of the road such as lane width and sight distance available to driver
  • changes in speed limits over a stretch of road

Environmental factors:

  • light conditions
  • inclement weather

Vehicle factors:

  • airbags
  • electronic stability control

Global trends, such as fluctuations in travel demand due to low fuel prices, also come into play, he adds.

Qin to Lead WisDOT in Technology Update

WisDOT also awarded Qin $348,781 to lead the agency in creating a new, unified geospatial database in line with federal guidelines necessary for Wisconsin to receive national DOT-apportioned highway funds.

Qin says the explosive growth of the mapping technology GIS (Geographic Information Systems) in the past four decades has resulted in inconsistencies and redundancies that are major obstacles to creating a nationally unified digital infrastructure.

WisDOT currently uses two systems – one reports on local roads (Wisconsin Information System for Local Roads) and the other reports on state and national roads (State Trunk Highway System).

The goals of this project are to identify the risks posed by WisDOT’s deprecated technologies and to propose a solution to merge the dual systems to a unified network while minimizing loss of information.