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Understanding the Role of Rainfall Intensity on Relative Car Crash Risk in the Carolinas

Montana A. EckaDepartment of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
bSoutheast Regional Climate Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Charles E. KonradaDepartment of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
bSoutheast Regional Climate Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Sandra RaynebSoutheast Regional Climate Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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Alan W. BlackcSouthern Illinois University at Edwardsville, Edwardsville, Illinois

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Abstract

As a significant detriment to physical and mental health, millions of motor vehicle crashes occur in the United States each year, with approximately 23% of these crashes linked to adverse weather conditions. This study builds upon a strong knowledge base to provide a deeper understanding of how rainfall intensity influences relative crash risk. Gridded precipitation and temperature data were aggregated to the county level and analyzed alongside motor vehicle crash data for all 146 counties in the Carolinas (North Carolina and South Carolina) for the period 2003–19. A matched-pair analysis routine linked unique time steps of rainfall (daily, 6-h, and hourly) to corresponding dry periods to evaluate relative crash risk across each state. Risk estimates were calculated on the basis of precipitation thresholds (light, moderate, heavy, and very heavy). Results indicate a statistically significant increase in crash risk during periods of rainfall in the Carolinas. As a baseline, the relative risk of experiencing a crash increases by 11.6% during days with accumulating rainfall and as much as 81.0% during heavy rainfall events over a 6-h period. In general, estimates of risk increase relative to the intensity of the rainfall event and the temporal delineation of the matched-pair routine. However, these relationships have unique spatiotemporal patterns indicating that, although hourly risk estimates may be beneficial for urban counties, daily relative risk estimates may be the only way to accurately capture risk in rural areas.

Significance Statement

Each year, more than 1 000 000 motor vehicle crashes in the United States are linked to adverse weather conditions in police reports, with rainfall events being among the largest contributors to increased crash risk. In this study, crash frequencies are evaluated to better understand how the intensity of rainfall events (light vs heavy) influences the risk of experiencing a collision on roadways in North Carolina and South Carolina. The results of statistical analyses revealed that risk increases significantly during rainfall events in both states and that the risk of experiencing a crash is highest during the heaviest rainfall events. However, even during light precipitation events, the risk of experiencing a crash is significantly higher than when driving during dry conditions. These results are helpful to transportation stakeholders and emergency responders in the hope of reducing crash risk in our changing climate.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Montana A. Eck, maeck@live.unc.edu

Abstract

As a significant detriment to physical and mental health, millions of motor vehicle crashes occur in the United States each year, with approximately 23% of these crashes linked to adverse weather conditions. This study builds upon a strong knowledge base to provide a deeper understanding of how rainfall intensity influences relative crash risk. Gridded precipitation and temperature data were aggregated to the county level and analyzed alongside motor vehicle crash data for all 146 counties in the Carolinas (North Carolina and South Carolina) for the period 2003–19. A matched-pair analysis routine linked unique time steps of rainfall (daily, 6-h, and hourly) to corresponding dry periods to evaluate relative crash risk across each state. Risk estimates were calculated on the basis of precipitation thresholds (light, moderate, heavy, and very heavy). Results indicate a statistically significant increase in crash risk during periods of rainfall in the Carolinas. As a baseline, the relative risk of experiencing a crash increases by 11.6% during days with accumulating rainfall and as much as 81.0% during heavy rainfall events over a 6-h period. In general, estimates of risk increase relative to the intensity of the rainfall event and the temporal delineation of the matched-pair routine. However, these relationships have unique spatiotemporal patterns indicating that, although hourly risk estimates may be beneficial for urban counties, daily relative risk estimates may be the only way to accurately capture risk in rural areas.

Significance Statement

Each year, more than 1 000 000 motor vehicle crashes in the United States are linked to adverse weather conditions in police reports, with rainfall events being among the largest contributors to increased crash risk. In this study, crash frequencies are evaluated to better understand how the intensity of rainfall events (light vs heavy) influences the risk of experiencing a collision on roadways in North Carolina and South Carolina. The results of statistical analyses revealed that risk increases significantly during rainfall events in both states and that the risk of experiencing a crash is highest during the heaviest rainfall events. However, even during light precipitation events, the risk of experiencing a crash is significantly higher than when driving during dry conditions. These results are helpful to transportation stakeholders and emergency responders in the hope of reducing crash risk in our changing climate.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Montana A. Eck, maeck@live.unc.edu
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