Researchers use Israelis’ favorite crowdsourced commuting app to keep traffic cops on the ball

Waze is being drafted to battle road accidents, by determining whether traffic police are patrolling problem intersections

There’s never a cop around when you need one, goes the old plaint. And now, university researchers are conducting research using social driving app Waze to find out where the traffic cops really are, and whether or not they are patrolling in the areas where they are needed.

Among the features of Waze — a crowdsourced app that uses information from commuters to inform other commuters about traffic tie-ups, accidents, construction, and other obstacles to efficient driving — is its tracking of police presence at intersections and on the road. Waze uses the GPS chip in a driver’s smartphone to alert them when they approach an intersection where the cops are checking for speeders and the like. Users get an opportunity to slow down, saving themselves a ticket or worse.

The research was published in a paper titled “Data Mining Opportunities in Geosocial Networks for Improving Road Safety,” authored by PhD student Michael Fire, scientific developer Dima Kagan, Dr. Rami Puzis, Prof. Lior Rokach and Prof. Yuval Elovici of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The paper was recently presented at the IEEE 27th Convention of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in Israel.

The researchers analyzed Waze data and plotted traffic accident patterns based on the information reported by app users. Using their data and Google Earth, they determined that 75 percent of the spots with the highest number of accidents were intersections. They then analyzed references to a police presence to determine if the police were present at the spots that had the worst traffic accidents.

Were the cops stationed at the right intersections, the “trouble” ones where accidents are most likely to take place? That’s the question the research team is set on answering, and using the Waze data they hope to help police deploy forces more efficiently, letting them know where they are needed most. “Our analysis could be used by the police to see if they are manning the busiest and most dangerous intersections,” Fire said.

Based on the research so far, cops need to improve their game somewhat. “According to the data, police response time was sometimes slow. There were also numerous instances where the police were manning quieter intersections, while busier intersections went unmonitored,” Fire said.

The Ben-Gurion team is working with researchers from the Telekom Innovation Laboratories, a program established in 2006 by German communications giant Deutsche Telekom, the company’s first lab facility outside of Germany. BGU researchers working in conjunction with the lab have come up with dozens of innovative ideas and innovations, many of them presented at international conferences – including the Facebook Social Privacy Protector App, which ensures that Facebook users don’t inadvertently reveal data that they would prefer to keep private.