It’s impossible for police to know every dangerous spot on the roads. They can’t be everywhere, and people wouldn’t want them to be anyway. But it’s a good guess that citizens know. We’re all aware of places where accidents either have happened, or where we’re sure they’re about to.
Tapping into the citizen brain to map danger spots was the point of a recent project in Belgium. Over a 10-day period in April, Belgians were asked to name places where police might place traffic cameras, and thus improve safety for all. They called it the “ik flits mee” (“I flash it”) campaign.
For a country of only 11 million, the response was impressive. People mapped more than 51,000 locations, including 12,000 on the first day alone.
“The main objective was to get information to the population on the danger of speeding and we succeeded,” says Karin Genoe, director of the Belgian Road Safety Institute. “Second, the public could indicate the hotspots. But it was up to the police to evaluate whether they were actually dangerous locations. Some were, some weren’t.”
Using the crowdsourced data, police set up temporary cameras on April 17, which resulted in more careful driving across the country, according to Genoe. “They were afraid of being caught that day,” she says.
Genoe says people sent in locations for one of three reasons: they wanted to identify a place long known for speeding; they wanted to bring attention to areas with lots of kids (round a school for instance); or they wanted to speak up for vulnerable road-users, like cyclists.
Whether the mapping data actually leads to long-term changes is an open question. One third of police stations chose not to participate, and even those that did insisted they already have ways of identifying hotspots. Time will tell if the information actually filters through. “It’s useful information that we hope the police will use, but it’s up to them,” Genoe says.