Drones Improve Investigations of Tragic Crashes


ODOT partners with Oregon State Police to use get a bird’s eye view to help understand, clear incidents

STATEWIDE – Technology continues to improve the Oregon’s State Police’s ability to investigate – and clear – crashes, according to a recent drone trial project conducted by OSP using a grant secured by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). As it turns out, the use of drones can gather much more valuable information, faster – and that makes things safer for everyone.

In late 2019, ODOT applied for and received a $90,000 Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The money bought five Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUASs) or drones for OSP investigators to use at collision sites.

Oregon State Police are using drones to help reconstruct crash scenes. Image courtesy of KATU News.

The results are an unqualified success: using an sUAS, reconstructionists spent significantly less time collecting information and gathered millions of data points compared to hundreds from the old-fashioned way.

Additionally, sUASs keep personnel safer by reducing the number of troopers needed to collect data. On a fatal crash, collision reconstructionists used to take an average of 4-6 hours. With the help of an sUAS, that time can be reduced to under an hour.

“Our partnership with OSP is a key factor in ensuring safety and supporting more reliable travel on our roads,” said ODOT Traffic Incident Management Coordinator Justin Guinan. “The longer the road is shut down to reconstruct a serious injury or fatal crash, the higher the secondary crash rate. Nationally, the likelihood of a secondary crash increases by 2.8% for each minute the road is closed – and that can create even more tragic situations.”

Benefits in Action

Earlier this year, sUAS kept first responders safe after a fatal crash. A car left the travel lane and went down an embankment towards a waterway; several people lost their lives.

The first responders couldn’t see the vehicle very well from the roadway. To reconstruct this fatal crash without the help of an sUAS, they would have had to rappel down the embankment with ropes to reach the vehicle. It would have been time consuming, difficult and potentially more dangerous for the first responders.

“The collision reconstructionist on this event said that without the sUAS there was absolutely no way that they could have collected all the information they needed,” said Guinan. “The sUAS was able to fly over the scene safely and easily, collecting millions of data points, and the images were crisp and clean.”

All these advantages add up to safer roads and significant cost savings. These drones are improving safety for travelers and first responders alike, while substantially reducing the costs of travel delays.

About Author

Jill Pearson is a communications specialist for Oregon Department of Transportation.

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