Traffic safety analysis, variable speed limits, bayesian inference, intelligent transportation system, traffic simulation


Traffic safety has become the first concern in the transportation area. Crashes have cause extensive human and economic losses. With the objective of reducing crash occurrence and alleviating crash injury severity, major efforts have been dedicated to reveal the hazardous factors that affect crash occurrence at both the aggregate (targeting crash frequency per segment, intersection, etc.,) and disaggregate levels (analyzing each crash event). The aggregate traffic safety studies, mainly developing safety performance functions (SPFs), are being conducted for the purpose of unveiling crash contributing factors for the interest locations. Results of the aggregate traffic safety studies can be used to identify crash hot spots, calculate crash modification factors (CMF), and improve geometric characteristics. Aggregate analyses mainly focus on discovering the hazardous factors that are related to the frequency of total crashes, of specific crash type, or of each crash severity level. While disaggregate studies benefit from the reliable surveillance systems which provide detailed real-time traffic and weather data. This information could help in capturing microlevel influences of the hazardous factors which might lead to a crash. The disaggregate traffic safety models, also called real-time crash risk evaluation models, can be used in monitoring crash hazardousness with the real-time field data fed in. One potential use of real-time crash risk evaluation models is to develop Variable Speed Limits (VSL) as a part of a freeway management system. Models have been developed to predict crash occurrence to proactively improve traffic safety and prevent crash occurrence. iv In this study, first, aggregate safety performance functions were estimated to unveil the different risk factors affecting crash occurrence for a mountainous freeway section. Then disaggregate real-time crash risk evaluation models have been developed for the total crashes with both the machine learning and hierarchical Bayesian models. Considering the need for analyzing both aggregate and disaggregate aspects of traffic safety, systematic multi-level traffic safety studies have been conducted for single- and multi-vehicle crashes, and weekday and weekend crashes. Finally, the feasibility of utilizing a VSL system to improve traffic safety on freeways has been investigated. This research was conducted based on data obtained from a 15-mile mountainous freeway section on I-70 in Colorado. The data contain historical crash data, roadway geometric characteristics, real-time weather data, and real-time traffic data. Real-time weather data were recorded by 6 weather stations installed along the freeway section, while the real-time traffic data were obtained from the Remote Traffic Microwave Sensor (RTMS) radars and Automatic Vechicle Identification (AVI) systems. Different datasets have been formulated from various data sources, and prepared for the multi-level traffic safety studies. In the aggregate traffic safety investigation, safety performance functions were developed to identify crash occurrence hazardous factors. For the first time real-time weather and traffic data were used in SPFs. Ordinary Poisson model and random effects Poisson models with Bayesian inference approach were employed to reveal the effects of weather and traffic related variables on crash occurrence. Two scenarios were considered: one seasonal based case and one crash type v based case. Deviance Information Criterion (DIC) was utilized as the comparison criterion; and the correlated random effects Poisson models outperform the others. Results indicate that weather condition variables, especially precipitation, play a key role in the safety performance functions. Moreover, in order to compare with the correlated random effects Poisson model, Multivariate Poisson model and Multivariate Poisson-lognormal model have been estimated. Conclusions indicate that, instead of assuming identical random effects for the homogenous segments, considering the correlation effects between two count variables would result in better model fit. Results from the aggregate analyses shed light on the policy implication to reduce crash frequencies. For the studied roadway segment, crash occurrence in the snow season have clear trends associated with adverse weather situations (bad visibility and large amount of precipitation); weather warning systems can be employed to improve road safety during the snow season. Furthermore, different traffic management strategies should be developed according to the distinct seasonal influence factors. In particular, sites with steep slopes need more attention from the traffic management center and operators especially during snow seasons to control the excess crash occurrence. Moreover, distinct strategy of freeway management should be designed to address the differences between single- and multi-vehicle crash characteristics. In addition to developing safety performance functions with various modeling techniques, this study also investigates four different approaches of developing informative priors for the independent variables. Bayesian inference framework provides a complete and coherent way to balance the empirical data and prior expectations; merits of these informative priors have been tested along with two types of Bayesian hierarchical models (Poisson-gamma and Poisson- vi lognormal models). Deviance Information Criterion, R-square values, and coefficients of variance for the estimations were utilized as evaluation measures to select the best model(s). Comparisons across the models indicate that the Poisson-gamma model is superior with a better model fit and it is much more robust with the informative priors. Moreover, the two-stage Bayesian updating informative priors provided the best goodness-of-fit and coefficient estimation accuracies. In addition to the aggregate analyses, real-time crash risk evaluation models have been developed to identify crash contributing factors at the disaggregate level. Support Vector Machine (SVM), a recently proposed statistical learning model and Hierarchical Bayesian logistic regression models were introduced to evaluate real-time crash risk. Classification and regression tree (CART) model has been developed to select the most important explanatory variables. Based on the variable selection results, Bayesian logistic regression models and SVM models with different kernel functions have been developed. Model comparisons based on receiver operating curves (ROC) demonstrate that the SVM model with Radial basis kernel function outperforms the others. Results from the models demonstrated that crashes are likely to happen during congestion periods (especially when the queuing area has propagated from the downstream segment); high variation of occupancy and/or volume would increase the probability of crash occurrence. Moreover, effects of microscopic traffic, weather, and roadway geometric factors on the occurrence of specific crash types have been investigated. Crashes have been categorized as rear- vii end, sideswipe, and single-vehicle crashes. AVI segment average speed, real-time weather data, and roadway geometric characteristics data were utilized as explanatory variables. Conclusions from this study imply that different active traffic management (ATM) strategies should be designed for three- and two-lane roadway sections and also considering the seasonal effects. Based on the abovementioned results, real-time crash risk evaluation models have been developed separately for multi-vehicle and single-vehicle crashes, and weekday and weekend crashes. Hierarchical Bayesian logistic regression models (random effects and random parameter logistic regression models) have been introduced to address the seasonal variations, crash unit level’s diversities, and unobserved heterogeneity caused by geometric characteristics. For the multi-vehicle crashes: congested conditions at downstream would contribute to an increase in the likelihood of multi-vehicle crashes; multi-vehicle crashes are more likely to occur during poor visibility conditions and if there is a turbulent area that exists downstream. Drivers who are unable to reduce their speeds timely are prone to causing rear-end crashes. While for the singlevehicle crashes: slow moving traffic platoons at the downstream detector of the crash occurrence locations would increase the probability of single-vehicle crashes; large variations of occupancy downstream would also increase the likelihood of single-vehicle crash occurrence. Substantial efforts have been dedicated to revealing the hazardous factors that affect crash occurrence from both the aggregate and disaggregate level in this study, however, findings and conclusions from these research work need to be transferred into applications for roadway design and freeway management. This study further investigates the feasibility of utilizing Variable Speed Limits (VSL) system, one key part of ATM, to improve traffic safety on freeways. A proactive traffic safety improvement VSL control algorithm has been proposed. First, an viii extension of the traffic flow model METANET was employed to predict traffic flow while considering VSL’s impacts on the flow-density diagram; a real-time crash risk evaluation model was then estimated for the purpose of quantifying crash risk; finally, the optimal VSL control strategies were achieved by employing an optimization technique of minimizing the total predicted crash risks along the VSL implementation area. Constraints were set up to limit the increase of the average travel time and differences between posted speed limits temporarily and spatially. The proposed VSL control strategy was tested for a mountainous freeway bottleneck area in the microscopic simulation software VISSIM. Safety impacts of the VSL system were quantified as crash risk improvements and speed homogeneity improvements. Moreover, three different driver compliance levels were modeled in VISSIM to monitor the sensitivity of VSL’s safety impacts on driver compliance levels. Conclusions demonstrate that the proposed VSL system could effectively improve traffic safety by decreasing crash risk, enhancing speed homogeneity, and reducing travel time under both high and moderate driver compliance levels; while the VSL system does not have significant effects on traffic safety enhancement under the low compliance scenario. Future implementations of VSL control strategies and related research topics were also discussed.


If this is your thesis or dissertation, and want to learn how to access it or for more information about readership statistics, contact us at

Graduation Date





Abdel-Aty, Mohamed


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineering

Degree Program

Civil Engineering








Release Date

February 2014

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering and Computer Science -- Dissertations, Academic