PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — In 2021, the number of Americans killed in car crashes surged to the highest level in 16 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But local leaders are on a mission to find what’s causing crashes and ways to prevent them before they even happen.
Bicyclist Jake Ennis will never shake the feeling he got recently when a driver turned right into him.
“He finally saw me, and when he saw the size of me, he didn’t want to hit me,” he said with a chuckle.
Forward Pinellas leaders are tracking close calls like his by using cameras.
“I think it’s a great idea because, over the years, I’ve seen double-digit near misses,” Ennis added.
Forward Pinellas recently tested the technology at Alt 19 and Curlew Road in Dunedin.
Transportation leaders tell ABC Action News that the findings blew them away.
In a single week, the cameras detected 360 people driving more than 10 miles over the speed limit, 60 drivers running a red light and 61 walkers and bikers crossing during a red light.
Chelsea Favero of Forward Pinellas said the cameras detected more than 3,000 close calls over the course of the trial, which lasted a few weeks.
“When we look at the camera outputs, it really shows us some common near misses so we can help solve problems before they do result in a fatality or an injury,” Favero explained.
Forward Pinellas leaders said tracking the near misses is crucial. Otherwise, they rely on crash data, and they believe that some of the problems are underreported.
The data helps Forward Pinellas recommend design changes at intersections. It’s also used after changes are made to ensure they’re working correctly.
“We’ve actually used the technology up on Sunset Point Road where there’s a crossing of the Pinellas Trail, and we utilized the technology to see if safety treatments proposed for the area before and afterward were working, Favero said. “The results were astonishing that these safety improvements really did have a great impact on the safety and the people crossing there.”
Speeding is another big factor on our Tampa Bay roadways.
Along Park Boulevard, transportation leaders are just wrapping up a project that used geofencing technology to target cars in a certain area. When you speed, the technology waits until you stop your car, then sends you a message about penalties for breaking the law.
“The data we’ve captured actually shows it had a positive impact, and people really did start to slow down along the corridor,” Favero said.
But ABC Action News wanted to know: does the technology go too far? Favero doesn’t think so.
“We’re not capturing anyone’s personal information or looking at their faces,” she said. “In the geofence, we didn’t capture anyone’s personal data. We are cognizant of that. We don’t want their personal information. We just want to get the safety messages out there.”
Most people said if it pumps the breaks on bad behavior, then it’s a good investment.
“If people follow the rules and stop when they’re supposed to and don’t take advantage of it, there’s no problem,” Pinellas County bicyclist Marge Ralph said. “But you just have to follow the rules.”
On Friday, October 14, FDOT leaders will meet with several Tampa Bay elected officials for a safety workshop at St Pete College’s Clearwater Epicenter Campus.
They plan to discuss the technology and others like it that are aimed at preventing serious crashes on our roadways. The idea is to move the technology to different crash-prone areas.