Can Social Media HELP Transportation?

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Credit: Nationwide Insurance

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If you’ve driven in the winter around central Illinois, you’ve probably noticed that the roads can get pretty hazardous. From snow to ice and everything in between, the roads can go from fine to unsafe at rapid rates. What if social media could help that? Research is finding that data from Twitter posts can be used to track weather conditions and patterns. This data can then be used to recommend safer driving speeds and which streets should be avoided.

This thought makes good sense. Twitter has 256 million daily users on mobile. The average Twitter user follows 102 accounts. If 80% of use is mobile, as Twitter’s company page says, then about 82 of this person’s Twitter feed are tweets created on the go.

How often have we scrolled though our feeds on social media to see a plethora of posts about weather? It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny, hot, cold, rainy, snowy, stormy, what have you. People love talking about what’s going on outside. In fact, this radio station reported that Americans spend 10 months of their entire life talking about weather. Odds are, if 80% of your Twitter usage is out and about, you’re probably going to tweet about what’s going on around you.

With this abundance of Twitter data on the climate, it seems only logical that this information be used to improve our lives. That’s the purpose of technology, isn’t it?Social Media Mobile Car

The leader of this study is Adel Sadek, PhD, who serves as the director of the University of Buffalo’s Institute for Sustainable Transportation and Logistics. Dr. Sadek is quoted saying, “It doesn’t matter if someone tweets about how beatiful the snow is or if they’re complaining about unplowed roads. Twitter users provide an unparalleled amount of hyperlocal data that we can use to improve our ability to direct traffic during snowstorms and adverse weather.”

Twitter does make location services an opt-in setting, though many choose to utilize this feature in order to get tweets and follow suggestions from local people and accounts. Location services also allow users to see what topics are trending in their area. By enabling location services, though, other users can see that you are located in the area, just as you can see other local users.

The research conducted by University of Buffalo found that “when snow falls, the number of weather-related tweets increases, the average motor vehicle speed drops and traffic volumes slowly decrease.” A basic model was created using this data to find patterns of time, weather, and tweets. From this, researchers believe that weather-related tweets and their accompanying data can be put into more elaborate models that can communicate with traffic planners to distinguish safe driving speeds, estimated travel times based upon weather conditions, and what roads to stay away from.

While this is still in the beginning stages of conception, it’s remarkable to see what impact a simple tweet or social media post can create. If by combining these tweets with posts on other social media, such as Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram, there is no limit to the possibilities and advancements that could result.

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