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Why do we need HELP?

The ability to quickly detect, verify, respond and clear minor incidents on the highway can significantly reduce the likelihood of the occurrence of lengthy tie-ups (Congestion Mitigation) and secondary incidents. Quick clearance of vehicles either disabled or involved in accidents blocking travel lanes on highways operating at capacity will minimize the traffic queues that result from such events, and will prevent devastating secondary accidents.

Congestion Mitigation

Congestion can be attributed to two primary factors, recurring conditions caused by demands regularly exceeding roadway capacities, and non-recurring conditions caused by random incidents. Research has shown that public safety through emergency response strategies can have a significant impact on those congestion delays due to non-recurring congestion stemming from random highway incidents. This is significant since various studies find that approximately 60% of all delay can be attributed to non-recurring or incident based congestion. Further, it may be hypothesized that a public safety response strategy to such congestion has a far greater impact on motorist behavior than the statistics indicate since the random nature of such incident based congestion prevents motorists' "planning" their trips to accommodate such congestion as they would for recurring congestion.

An incident is defined as, "any event that degrades safety and slows traffic, including disabled vehicles, crashes, adverse weather conditions, debris in the roadway, and even unplanned maintenance or construction activities or poorly advertised special events."

Incident Management is then defined as, "an operational strategy for a transportation network that involves a coordinated, planned emergency response to a random incident that returns the transportation network traffic to normal conditions as quickly as possible while minimizing network delay and maximizing network safety."

In the Hudson Valley, the HELP Program is an integral part of the operational strategy that addresses the transportation network in a very significant urbanized area. See the HELP Truck Patrol Program Motorist Assists Summary Data.

Consider on a national level the following statistics (Texas Transportation Institute):

Closer to home on a regional level, the facts are even more telling. A 2000 study of the New York Metropolitan area indicated the following local economic impact of congestion:

These figures do not account for impact to the regional environment relative to increased air pollutants, traffic safety and congestion related accidents, or other quality of life issues.

Reduction of Secondary Incidents

Every day, highway police patrols across the country are dispatched to motor vehicle accidents resulting from mechanically disabled motor vehicles or vehicles in minor property damage accidents being hit, or from multiple rear end collisions occurring in traffic queues caused by vehicles obstructing free flowing traffic. More horrific are those instances where occupants who have exited their vehicles to effect repairs or walk along the shoulder are struck by passing traffic. These secondary incidents tend to be more serious than the original incident, as they result from vehicles at highway speed striking stopped vehicles or persons. It is assumed that the risk of such an incident is minimized significantly once an emergency responder has arrived at the scene with emergency lighting, employing incident management tactics and strategies. It is further assumed that quick response and clearance of highway incidents will limit potential exposure to secondary events.

The United States Department of Transportation's
Intelligent Transportation Systems Public Safety
USDOT ITS Public Safety Logo website asserts:

"Life can depend on navigable roads. Crashes kill more than 41,000 Americans every year-roughly 115 a day, or one every 13 minutes. In these and other emergencies, lives depend on how fast rescuers reach the scene. The ITS Public Safety Program is working to improve emergency services through faster incident detection and notification, faster emergency response times; and real-time wireless communications links among emergency response organizations."

As these programs usually are at least partially federally funded, a market based approach has been required to substantiate and justify funding for these types of service.

Studies have shown that recurring congestion and incident based congestion create $6.62 billion in costs in the New York urban area annually (Texas Transportation Institute, 2000), and that incident congestion is the source of 60 percent of all traffic delay. Furthermore, 20 percent of peak hour incidents are related to previous incidents (National Highway Institute, 2001). Therefore, if the response strategy provided can be proven to reduce secondary accident rates through faster detection, verification and coordinated response and clearance, than it clearly translates to saved lives, saved time and money, and thus, an appropriate expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

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"Proceedings of the National Conference on Traffic Incident Management: A Road Map to the Future", June 2002, includes an Operational Issues Discussion Paper on "Incident Management Operations: Top Five Issues", prepared by John O'Laughlin and Arland Smith for PB Farradyne.

According to the article "Secondary Crash Prevention" is one of the top five issues. Included here is an excerpt:

"Studies have indicated crashes secondary to other incidents range from 14 to 30 percent of all crashes. USDOT estimated that 18% of deaths on freeways were secondary crashes."

The authors assert that this is an area where significant improvements can be made to eliminate secondary crashes. Research, studies, training, and policy development can have a positive impact on reducing the number and severity of secondary crashes. The authors hypothesize that service patrols that are electronically linked to emergency dispatch centers can have a positive effect in reducing incident detection, response and clearance, therefore reducing the potential for secondary incidents to occur.

The Garmen Study

It is important in any state of federally funded program to measure the effectiveness of the service being provided. One Measure of Effectiveness (MOE) of the HELP Program in the Hudson Valley is the Garmen Study of the Program as it existed in 1999. The Study reviewed incident data from police records, in an attempt to measure incident duration with and without HELP service, and developed a rate of occurrence of each incident type per million miles traveled. Therefore, the potential number of assists could be predicted based on traffic volume and length of roadway. If an accurate percentage of secondary incidents could be ascertained from the total, and compared with both the average time it takes for the secondary incident to occur, and the reduction of clearance times that the HELP Program facilitates, than this would be valuable information in validating the hypothesis that the presence of the service patrols reduced the potential for the secondary incident to occur. The Garmen Study closely reviewed the impact that HELP had on the actual duration of incidents, and found that this impact was highly dependent upon the type of incident. The following table displays the Study's findings related to type of incident and impact of HELP:

Garmen Study Findings

Accident/Fire 75 70
Fuel/Battery/Overheat 75 20
Engine Trouble 85 50
Resting/Abandoned Vehicle No Impact  
Lanes Blocked 30 15

Therefore the mean time per incident type was 78.3 minutes before HELP, and 46.6 after for all situations. Significantly, when an incident involved a lane blockage, a 50% reduction in the time needed for clearing the lane blockage was measured.

Proposed I-95 Corridor Coalition Study

I-95 Corridor Coalition

A new study, being funded by the I-95 Corridor Coalition, will develop a method for quantifying the benefits of the service patrol concept, against the detrimental effects of congestion related to lost wages and productivity, delayed cargo, fuel consumption and emissions, and exposure of motorists to the danger of secondary incidents.

The methodology of this study will be as follows:

  1. Collection of Accident reports and Tow logs, to determine weather, primary or secondary incident status, roadway character, and incident nature for all events occurring outside of HELP Patrol hours of service.
Secondary Incident Categories
Secondary Incident Categories
  1. Once the necessary data is collected, it will be necessary to construct a statistical relationship between the dependent variable, secondary incidents, and key independent variables such as lane blockage, roadway design characteristics (shoulder/no shoulder), weather, lighting, and whether HELP was on or off duty. Simultaneous to the statistical analysis of the data related to the variables, it is necessary to continue to monitor detection, response and clearance times from the data sources, in order to maintain the assumption that HELP service is attributable to improvement in these areas. This would be particularly necessary during expansion into off peak hours where it is most likely that fewer patrols would be covering larger areas.
  2. Measurement of the effect of HELP service will be achieved by examining data during off peak hours for one month with no additional HELP service, and then for five additional months with incremental additions of off-peak HELP Patrols between the hours of 7 pm to 12 midnight, of one beat per month.
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