Texas A&M study finds navigations apps may take you fastest route, not necessarily safest

Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 2:18 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Many of us rely on our GPS and navigation apps to get us where we’re going the fastest, but what about finding the safest route to our destination?

Researchers at Texas A&M recently completed a study that found taking a route with an 8% reduction in travel time could increase the risk of getting into a crash by 23%. They analyzed over 29,000 road segments comparing shortest and safest routes between five metropolitan areas in Texas - Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, Houston, and Bryan-College Station.

Texas A&M Transportation Institute post-doctoral researcher Soheil Sohrabi and Texas A&M professor in the Zachry Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Dominique Lord designed and authored the study.

“The takeaway was the fastest route is not necessarily the safest one, and the difference between those two were actually quite considerable,” Sohrabi said. “One route can save you five minutes, but the probability of being involved in a crash if you take that route compared to the safest one would be five times higher.”

“When you try to minimize time, it was going against trying to minimize safety,” Lord said. “It would be safer to send everyone on a few lanes and leave a few lanes empty where people would not drive on some roads than force people to go on fewer roads between their origin and destination. This would make the network safer.”

Sohrabi said another interesting finding was that different weather conditions can change the safety outlook of certain routes.

“If you want to go from College Station to Dallas, maybe in good weather conditions, the safest route would be taking Highway 6, and then I-35,” Sohrabi said. “But in rainy weather conditions, maybe the safest route is taking I-45.”

Now, they’re working on a new app framework that puts safer route options first. They point to the fact that Google Maps recently added a new feature to their system that provides the most environmentally friendly routes as evidence that this can be done.

”The system we proposed actually can be implemented in route-finding systems, but still there are some limitations we need to think about,” Sohrabi said. “We need to come up with more accurate modeling and more innovative data sources to be able to do that.”

“We need to try to get more real-time data, but that’s difficult, specifically for crashes, so we’re using historical crash data, which is better than nothing,” Lord said. “But to go where we want, more up-to-date information will probably be a challenge. As more data and more types of data become available, I think the structure could potentially work.”

Sohrabi also says an app that provides users a conscious decision involving the trade-off between travel time and safety presents an ethical dilemma. He says this is a major concern.

“It’s a little bit subjective. Maybe I’m a risky driver who prefers to get to my destination faster, and I don’t care about safety. If this is the case, another kind of problem arises. That is, how do these kind of decisions would affect other road users,” Sohrabi said. “If there is a crash, it’s not just me that’s involved. If it’s a multi-vehicle crash, other vehicles are involved. Even if I just cause a road closure, it would affect the traffic and increase the travel time for other road users.”

Lord says there’s more work to be done in this area, but the outlook is positive based on people’s interest in providing information to improve the functionality of these applications.

“If it can help reduce the number of crashes and the severity overall by providing this information, that’s great,” Lord said.

Copyright 2022 KBTX. All rights reserved.