AI road leads to improved safety in Western Australia

By on 28/10/2019 | Updated on 28/10/2019

Governments are responsible for ensuring public funding is well spent. The Western Australia Road Safety Commission (RSC) is reducing road intersection crashes by using artificial intelligence to identify where to place red-light speed cameras

As early as the 12th century, some form of the phrase “All roads lead to Rome” was in common parlance.  In the 1390s, the English poet Chaucer (author of The Canterbury Tales) wrote “right as diverse pathes leden the folk the righte wey to Rome,” in A Treatise on the Astrolabe. Used today, it means that different paths can lead to the same goal. 

In the world of artificial intelligence, the same could be said today: there are many techniques that can support decision-making from rule-based systems to artificial neural networks, to fuzzy models and swarm intelligence.

Public sector agency leaders are often confused by the multitude of approaches, and even more bewildered by how to apply those approaches to their day-to-day problems.  There is a common belief among leaders that only large or complex problems require AI. In fact, while AI can and does tackle big, hairy problems, AI can also be used for problems that simply require a lot of time and human effort. Earlier this year, I highlighted a North Carolina county’s use of machine learning to support fair assessment of property values. In Machine Learning on your Street: Bringing AI to your neighborhood, I shared that the key to the use of AI in the state’s most populous county, Wake County, is not necessarily how complex the problem is. In fact, Wake County, and thousands of other taxing authorities have developed methods for assessing property values for many years. The critical element is that machine learning – artificial intelligence – algorithms are performing this assessment daily across the entire portfolio of over 300,000 properties; it has the added benefit of eliminating subjective bias from their assessment staff and providing transparency that regulators will be able to point to during the appeals process.

So, public sector agency leaders need to evaluate what problems they want to solve, or what decisions they are making regularly that they would like to make faster or more cost-effectively. One Australian agency is using AI to make decisions that could be the difference between life and death.

The Western Australia Road Safety Commission (RSC) needs to provide statistical evidence that ensures public funds are well-spent.  Its key initiative, the WA State Government’s roads safety strategy  Towards Zero 2008-2020, aims to improve road safety and reduce fatalities and serious injuries.  As with most developed countries, crashes at intersections make up almost 50% of all road accidents. The commission’s data and intelligence team needed to identify where to place red-light speed cameras, which is a proven and effective way to stop these intersection crashes.  Before the use of machine learning algorithms, the team manually ranked road intersections using killed or seriously injured (KSI) statistics. They pored over historical crash data in Microsoft Excel. Some data they analyzed (e.g., vehicle information) was held by other agencies.

Using SAS® Visual Data Mining and Machine Learning powered by SAS® Viya® on SAS® Cloud, they were able to rapidly prototype a machine learning model to produce a probability of KSI crashes, assessing intersections by risk, not by crashes. The complete analytics lifecycle for a project – from data engineering to data visualization – has dropped from 100 to just 20 hours.  Although just in the early stages, a test scenario using the machine learning method estimated a 25% reduction in crashes compared to the previous method. In this case, as in many other examples of using AI in the public sector, the advantage of speed-to-decision coupled with increases in safety has transformed the commission’s efforts in promoting road safety.

A critical element of RSC’s success is the emphasis they placed on developing a self-sufficient platform.  They brought the advanced analytics in-house and now rely on their own analysts, rather than hiring consultants or academics to produce reports and models.  In addition, enabling the team to serve up various coding languages on SAS® Viya® has lowered the threshold to the successful use of AI.

Not every agency will be able to support in-house analytics, of course.  The Wake County solution has been developed and managed by SAS to provide an easy-to-use, web-based interface so that significant data science expertise is unnecessary. But after seeing what machine learning has accomplished in Wake County, its leaders are considering other ways AI approaches can improve decisions. 

Whether they lead to Rome or not, Western Australia has shown that roads can be safer by combining the automated accuracy of artificial intelligence with the nuanced judgement of human intelligence.  But that’s just one innovative agency’s approach. What AI road are you taking?

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