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Panama City most dangerous city of its size for motorists and pedestrians

Last year, Panama City was the most dangerous city of its size in the state for motorists and pedestrians.

The dubious distinction sent police in search of possible solutions, and one solution, implemented last July, was the installation of traffic citation and crash reporting software.

The software, TraCS (Traffic and Criminal Software), is designed to save money and lives by eliminating paperwork for crash investigators and increasing the speed with which traffic crash data gets to decision makers in Tallahassee, said Amy Cochran, a TraCS program coordinator at Florida State University.

"We were looking for anything that would help," said Sgt. Jason Jeter, who supervises one of two PCPD traffic units.

Police in Panama City are using TraCS to collect and analyze data about where and when accidents, particularly accidents with injuries or fatalities, are happening so they can target enforcement or education efforts at those times in those locations, Jeter said. Both the police and the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) benefit from the real-time data.

"The DOT can use the crash data to make decisions about how we spend our tax dollars," Cochran said. "The DOT gets about a billion dollars a year to fix our roadways, and they decide how to do that by analyzing crash data. ... Where fatalities occur is where the primary concern for fixing roadways should be."

Earlier this month, PCPD began releasing weekly updates with the number of crashes in the city over the past seven days, the number of crashes with injuries, and the location of the three most accident-prone intersections during that time. Every month, patrol officers get a list of the 10 most dangerous intersections in the city.

What's more, the systems allows police to monitor where dangerous driving behavior is more common--for instance, red light violations at 23rd Street and Beck Avenue -- and increase enforcement in those locations, Jeter said. That might mean police write more tickets or they put up signs in the area warning drivers against dangerous behavior. Oftentimes, the mere presence of a marked police car will deter dangerous driving.

"We use different little tactics to bring about people's change," Jeter said. "People are going to change their behavior just by seeing a car there."

'Like TurboTax'

TraCS allows officers to fill out an electronic version of the Florida Traffic Crash Report and transmit the report wirelessly to the station for a supervisor's approval.

"It's like TurboTax; basically it asks a question and you fill in the information," said Danielle King, a traffic safety specialist with the Florida Department of Transportation who helps agencies secure grant funding to pay for the software.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides grant funding to pay for TraCS to any law enforcement agency in the state, King said. As of the end of March, about 175 agencies in Florida have taken advantage.

That data then can be electronically transmitted to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, usually within 24 hours, according to PCPD spokesman Lt. Robert Luther. Citation data can be transmitted to the state and the courthouse electronically, as well, which saves time and money on both ends of the transaction, Cochran said.

"If crashes are occurring more frequently in an area, having real-time information allows law enforcement to target enforcement," King said. "It doesn't tell you that there's a design problem, but if there are multiple crashes in an area, it may prompt an engineering audit for the area to determine if there's a roadway engineering problem for that area."

TraCS also could help the state attract more federal road funding, Cochran said.

Part of how the federal government decides how much money Florida gets for roads each year is determined by how quickly the state gets crash data, Cochran said, so "the more crash reports that our agencies in Florida can get to the state in a timely fashion, the better we look."

A few years ago, police were filling out traffic crash reports by hand, and the data in the reports was then re-entered before it was sent to the state, Luther said. The process was redundant and time consuming.

"Overwhelmingly, for the department, I would say we are very pleased," Luther said.

Click on this link to learn more.

Source: Panama City News Herald, "PCPD using new tech to analyze wrecks", Chris Olwell, June 25, 2012

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