Saving lives on Massachusetts roadways

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Driving can be a jarring and, sometimes, dangerous venture. Is there a way to make it safer? That’s the question three graduate students in the information design and visualization program—each of them new to Massachusetts and inspired by trying to navigate its roadways—tackled this year.

Divya Srinivasan, Zhengyan Yu, and Liuhuaying Yang, all MFA’18, analyzed massive open-source data sets on traffic incidents in Massachusetts to determine that weather, location, and time of day were the three factors that were most influential in causing vehicle accidents.

“So, now that we know this, we thought, ‘How can we reduce the number of accidents in Massachusetts and make it safer to drive?’” Srinivasan says at Thursday’s RISE:2017 expo, where the student researchers presented their work.

They devised a small device that would be placed on a driver’s windshield that, when paired with a mobile application, could warn drivers of impending weather conditions or breaking traffic incidents before and during their commutes.

“Not being from here, I went out in the snow one day without realizing I needed chains on my tires,” Srinivasan says. “This device would warn people of slippery conditions like that.”

The device, still in its infancy, would emit a red, yellow, or green light as a driver travels along his or her route—colors based on the likelihood of dangerous conditions ahead. The warning would give a driver the opportunity to reroute to avoid that danger.

If the driver were to get into an accident, however, impact-detecting software in the device could alert nearby emergency responders as well as the driver’s family and friends.

“You can’t always get to your phone after an accident, so this type of technology could really save lives,” Srinivasan says.