Every year a province-wide evaluation of road problems is publicized based on subjective complaints. Why does the evaluation not use objective data instead?

An example of road surface problems on Wonderland Road near London, Ontario where Gorski Consulting conducted testing to determine the extent of the problem.

Every year the official news agencies publicize the results of a Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) “Worst Roads Campaign”. The custom asks citizens to report complaints to the CAA about roadways that, in their opinion, are the worst in their area. The CAA complies the data and the news agencies publicize it. The claimed benefit is that this process applies pressure on various politicians and road agencies to repair the roads and keep them safe. The problem with this campaign is its subjective basis. It means that, if enough persons in a specific locality complain about a specific road then it will be advertised as the worst road, regardless of whether it is the worst road. In fact, there is no indication that the CAA actually follows up with the complaints and conducts some form of objective testing to confirm whether the complaints are legitimate. One could see it theoretically possible for a group of “conspirators” to flood the program with complaints, simply for the fun of it. While such a action could seem amusing it could have real consequences.

Road repairs must be prioritized based on standardized procedures. Prioritization looks at the severity of the road deficiencies as well as the frequency of usage of the road. As an example, a safety problem on a high speed freeway like Highway 401, that could experience a 100,000 vehicles a day, would be prioritized for repair quicker than if that same problem was observed on a local, rural lane than experiences minimal traffic. When public campaigns interfere with that scientific process of prioritization bad things can happen that could affect the public’s safety.

Yet there is a simple correction that could be made to the CAA’s Worst Roads Campaign. Citizens could continue to make their complaints however, after those complaints are tallied objective testing could be conducted to determine if the top 3 or 5 roads merit the label of Worst Roads. While the CAA may believe that they do not have the ability to conduct such testing, there are simple remedies available.

For the past 5 to 6 years Gorski Consulting has maintained and updated a “Road Data” system on the Gorski Consulting website. This road data is gathered using a test vehicle that is driven along a road and the motion of the vehicle is sensed using the sensors of an iPhone. While one might think that a “cell phone” cannot be very accurate or reliable, that is not true. The iPhone is used around the world and its sensors must be capable of reliable operation with various gaming, computer programs. The test of their reliability is in the success with which such gaming activities are conducted without complaint or competition from other manufacturers. The iPhone is able to sense the tri-axial acceleration of the unit as well as its motion is space. This means that when the iPhone is attached securely to a test vehicle it will also sense the acceleration and motion of the test vehicle. This is the basis of the Gorski Consulting Road Data.┬áMultiple video cameras are also attached to the test vehicle when the testing is performed so that very specific information is stored about the qualities of the road, not just the numerical data.

The iPhone is capable of sensing and storing a vast amount of data from a surprising number of parameters. Whenever it is used in a test vehicle all this data becomes stored and then sent to a spreadsheet. Yet it would be impractical to display all these mountains of data in the Road Data file. Thus Gorski Consulting has chosen to display the values from just one parameter in the Road Data file. That parameter indicates the rate of change in the vehicle’s longitudinal and lateral motion. In simple terms the test results indicate how much the test vehicle is “bounced around” as it proceeds along a road segment. While the remainder of the stored data is not reported it is available at Gorski Consulting should someone have a wish to study it. The data that presently exists in the Road Data file can be used as a comparison to the data obtained from any future testing.

Thus a testing procedure like the one conducted by Gorski Consulting could provide the objective facts to either support the subjective complaints of citizens or deny them. This could provide the legitimacy to the CAA Worst Roads Campaign. Without such objective facts a program based on subjective complaints can be of limited benefit while also being potentially harmful to road users.