Archive for Monday, August 17, 2009

Crunching the numbers on accidents in town

Student influx changes driving dynamic

August 17, 2009


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It happens like clockwork every August, and Lawrence locals are familiar with the signs.

First, it’s the piles of furniture that begin lining the streets, followed by longer than expected waits to get into downtown restaurants. But the most obvious, telltale sign that students have returned to Lawrence is the traffic congestion clogging streets and intersections.

It’s move-in time on campus, and as the city roads see an influx of thousands of returning students it’s no surprise traffic is getting cramped along 23rd Street. And as students navigate the streets of their new home, the number of traffic accidents in the city increases.

“When KU’s out it’s a piece of cake to get around this town. It truly is,” Lawrence Traffic Safety Commission member Richard Heckler said. “When the kids come back to town everybody has to be more responsible.”

According to police reports, nearly a quarter of all traffic accidents in Lawrence during the past year were caused by people between the ages of 19 and 23.

“I don’t know that there’s anything here that’s any more unusual than anyplace else,” said city traffic engineer David Woosley. “It’s just that people aren’t familiar with the town. They’re trying to find how to get from here to there. Their attention isn’t 100 percent on their driving.”

In Lawrence, inattentive driving was cited as the main contributing factor of about 32 percent of all accidents for which police determined a cause.

Kansas University associate professor of psychology Dr. Paul Atchley conducts research on driving and attention span. He said that while both young and old drivers had their fair share of problems behind the wheel, it was often young people who had the hardest time focusing on the road.

“There are differences in attention as you age,” Atchley said. “Younger drivers don’t know where to attend because they’re inexperienced. They don’t always pay attention to the most important things. At an intersection they may not look left and right because they haven’t learned how important that is yet.”

Atchley said it was easy to overlook the complexity of driving a car, which requires us to focus our attention on several things at once.

He said in order to drive we have to frequently shift our attention from various signals outside the vehicle to ones inside it while at the same time manipulating our bodies into physically controlling the car. Attempting to do all that while sending a text message, as 75 percent of college students he surveyed do, could combine to be just as dangerous, if not more so, than driving while intoxicated, he said.

“Your brain can do only one thing at once,” Atchley said. “We can’t truly multitask.”

With most students now back in town, changes in the traffic flow have already begun. Heckler said it was important for everyone in the city to be aware of other drivers and to be as safe as possible.

“People just need to slow down, that’s the key,” he said. “And it isn’t just students. We all have to. There are plenty of fast drivers in this town without students.”


Mark Zwahl 8 years, 8 months ago

the numbers that really need crunching are to give us feedback on the variables that contribute to accidents - perhaps even on a daily or weekly basis. What percentage of accidents are caused or contributed to by speeding? Following too close? Lack of turn signals? Headlights not on? Distraction? We don't get feedback in general, because we do these things w/o consequence most of the time. But some regular information/data about what creates accidents might wake some of us up a bit.

Brian Laird 8 years, 8 months ago

"Younger drivers don’t know where to attend because they’re inexperienced. They don’t always pay attention to the most important things.At an intersection they may not look left and right because they haven’t learned how important that is yet.”

Is this really inexperience or stupidity?Anyone who doesn't know that it is important to look left AND right at an intersection should not be allowed to drive at all.

Shane Garrett 8 years, 8 months ago

Reminds me of the gal at 10th and Kentucky smiling and waving at me because I was waving trying to warn her she was about to go the wrong way. She made the turn and soon realized her mistake. Here is your sign.

jonas_opines 8 years, 8 months ago

I used to work at 11th and Kentucky and it was always great fun in August and September to see the nearly daily event of some panicking driver dive into the Vermont Towers lot after turning the wrong way.

But then, Tennessee and Kentucky are just accidents waiting to happen for new drivers, because the notion that both those streets are one way in opposite directions is less than obvious for anyone who has not been here already.

kmat 8 years, 8 months ago

I just loved the car full of girls I saw the other day that missed the turn into Johnny's and decided to make an illegal u turn in all the construction mess, and head down into the area where they are tearing the street up because she couldn't be bothered to go back through the detour again. I would have loved to have seen the faces on the workers as the car full of girls came at them. This girl literally had to stop traffic and make a tight three point turn through those concrete barriers into the construction zone. She needs to lose her license.

Welcome back students. Time for us permanent residents to hide until you know you're way around town.

gccs14r 8 years, 8 months ago

I don't get the new trend of kids stopping at a green light to purposely hold up traffic, then bolting at the yellow so only they get through. Yesterday I saw one do it at 23rd and Haskell and he actually flipped off the guy behind him while holding things up. Some punk is going to get yanked out of his car and beaten in the street if this keeps up.

jeffds01 8 years, 8 months ago

It doesn't help that Lawrence is never ending road work site. The city no matter what time of year, finds a way to have road work going on somewhere, that casues lanes to be closed.

A big mess, but I certainly agree "everyone" needs to just slow down, not just the students but everyone

Sigmund 8 years, 8 months ago

I downloaded the accident_spreadsheet.xls and the time field looks hosed. Is it possible for it to be corrected, or was it like that for the original data using some time unusual time format?

Aileen Dingus 8 years, 8 months ago

We joke that KU must have a lousy physics department, because the students don't seem to understand that "two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time" rule.

Don't worry physics profs- we're only half joking.

gccs14r 8 years, 8 months ago

Looks like some kind of negative offset from a fixed value. Maybe it's in fractional days from Midnight or something.

3100 accidents. Probably at least $2000 per event. $6.2 million. That'd pay for a pretty decent bus system.

muddfoot55 8 years, 8 months ago

Turn down the music...put down the cell phone...flip that smoke out the window...and PAY ATTENTION!

jengaman 8 years, 8 months ago

For some reason it amazes me that 23rd and Iowa has the most accidents. I know more cars = more opportunity for something to go wrong...but of all places to NOT be paying attention.

Wrecks should be down today since everyone will be driving 10 miles under the speed limit...with the roads a little bit wet and all.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 8 months ago

Wally, Your post reminds me of a time when a friend and I were in Denver. He was driving. We saw a police waving at us and we waved back. Couldn't figure out where we were and went back to see the same officer who again waved at us. Police here sure are a lot more friendly than in Kansas City, said my friend. The friendly officer pulled us over to tell us we had been going the wrong way down a one way street. Over and over. Sign? I sure didn't see no stinking sign.

Steve Miller 8 years, 8 months ago

Get the bypass completed !!! Already...

Jd Finch 8 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for posting the data. I had the same issue with the Time field. One fix (I'm sure there's a better way) is to format a new column (column J) as a time column (right click -> format cells -> time tab) and then create a simple formula converting the numbers in the time column to a positive (=D3*-1). Not sure why the numbers appear as negative in the first place.

Scott Drummond 8 years, 8 months ago

"Get the bypass completed !!! Already…"

And how, exactly, will the SLT improve in-town traffic caused by the student influx?

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 8 months ago

jayhawkster I took an Excel class at Independence, Inc. and found it both fun and mystifying. They gave us the formula that sports analysts use to create the stats tables you see on the Web.

morganalefay 8 years, 8 months ago

Boltzman: "Anyone who doesn't know that it is important to look left AND right at an intersection should not be allowed to drive at all."

Well, then there are a lot of people who shouldn't be driving in this town. I have seen far too many drivers who are stopped at an intersection, planning to turn right, who ONLY look to the left before they turn. Lots of close calls with runners and walkers who are about to cross the street with the light, if some idiot doesn't look to the right before turning right to see them.

If all those people who did that were never allowed to drive again, maybe there would be fewer accidents involving pedestrians.

MIke Mallory 8 years, 8 months ago


gccs14r 8 years, 8 months ago

Oh, yeah, Logic, it's happening. I've seen it more than once, as has my fianceé. That's better than what they were doing a couple of years ago, which was playing follow-the-leader through red lighs and stop signs, but it's still going to get someone a beating.

The kid I saw on Sunday was probably 16 years old.

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