Impact of Traffic Oscillations on Freeway Crash Occurrences

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Traffic oscillations are typical features of congested traffic flow that are characterized by recurring decelerations followed by accelerations (stop-and-go driving). The negative environmental impacts of these oscillations are widely accepted, but their impact on traffic safety has been debated. This paper describes the impact of freeway traffic oscillations on traffic safety. This study employs a matched case-control design using high-resolution traffic and crash data from a freeway segment. Traffic conditions prior to each crash were taken as cases, while traffic conditions during the same periods on days without crashes were taken as controls. These were also matched by presence of congestion, geometry and weather. A total of 82 cases and about 80,000 candidate controls were extracted from more than three years of data from 2004 to 2007. Conditional logistic regression models were developed based on the case-control samples. To verify consistency in the results, 20 different sets of controls were randomly extracted from the candidate pool for varying control-case ratios. The results reveal that the standard deviation of speed (thus, oscillations) is a significant variable, with an average odds ratio of about 1.08. This implies that the likelihood of a (rear-end) crash increases by about 8% with an additional unit increase in the standard deviation of speed. The average traffic states prior to crashes were less significant than the speed variations in congestion.



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