Exploring driving patterns during wildfire evacuations: A study using connected vehicle data

November 15, 2023

Investigating the impact of wildfires on driving behavior

Understanding driving behavior during wildfires

Wildfires, increasingly prevalent especially in the western United States, pose significant threats to communities, particularly those in wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas.

A new study focuses on understanding the driving behavior of individuals during mandatory evacuations from these areas, crucial due to potential low visibility and challenging driving conditions caused by fires​​.

The rising threat of wildfires

Wildfires, uncontrolled fires in natural environments, threaten properties, lives, and ecosystems.

Factors like high winds, severe drought, steep topography, and dry vegetative fuels, exacerbated by climate change, contribute to their increasing occurrence.

The United States has experienced significant losses due to wildfires, including civilian deaths, injuries, and substantial property damage​​.

Crucial role of evacuation driving behavior

The unpredictable nature of fires makes the driving behavior of evacuating traffic critical.

Evacuees often face reduced visibility and must respond rapidly to evacuation orders, sometimes fleeing on foot due to traffic jams and approaching flames.

Communities in WUI zones, with limited exit routes and close to flammable vegetation, face the highest fire risks​​.

Connected vehicle data: A new approach to study evacuations

Researchers have started using connected vehicle data to study evacuation driving behavior.

This data, offering lane-level precision of hard-braking and hard-acceleration events, helps assess aggressive driving patterns and identify traffic congestion points and fire impact areas in road networks​​.

Challenges in collecting evacuation behavior data

Historically, evacuation behavior data collection has relied on surveys, which face accuracy and implementation challenges.

This reliance on qualitative data often fails to capture comprehensive evacuation responses and is subject to self-selection bias and post-disaster recounting uncertainty​​.

Traffic simulation models and wildfire evacuations

Traffic simulation models, crucial for planning and managing evacuations, require accurate data on driving behavior during wildfires.

Currently, there is a lack of comprehensive data on driving behavior parameters needed for these models, leading to potentially ineffective traffic management strategies​​.

Contributions of the study

This paper, building on previous research, investigates human driving behavior patterns under various wildfire scenarios using connected vehicle data.

It aims to enhance the understanding of factors like traffic conditions, environment, and the temporal and spatial progression of fire on driving behavior, contributing to the fields of wildfire evacuation and behavior modeling​​.

FSJA Comment

The study highlighted here provides a novel approach to understanding driving behavior during wildfire evacuations, a topic of growing importance in the face of climate change and increasing wildfire risks.

By utilizing connected vehicle data, the research offers a more precise and data-driven perspective on how individuals react and move during such emergencies.

This approach not only enhances our understanding of human behavior in crisis situations but also provides valuable insights for emergency planners and responders.

The ability to analyze real-time data during evacuations can lead to more effective traffic management strategies, potentially saving lives and minimizing chaos during such critical times.

This study underscores the importance of leveraging technology in disaster response and the need for continuous improvement in our emergency preparedness and response mechanisms.

Read Next

Subscribe Now