Since starting a new job at UAMS earlier this year, I’ve been guest-blogging on the family firm’s site about software projects related to their work. Some of my projects aren’t related, however, and I haven’t had a forum for those posts. So, I’ve started a blog here and seeded it with non-law posts from the law firm site that relate to big data, information visualization, software, technology, and food. Welcome, and have a look around!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a map of the traffic fatalities in Arkansas in 2015. The data came from the NHTSA, and the graphic I posted was just scratching the surface. I’ve sliced the data a couple of different ways and created three more sets of visualizations about that data. For the next three posts, I’ll show the visualizations, my interpretation, and then the code so that non-programmers will get the goods on the front end.

The Visualizations

The first set of visualizations maps the raw number of traffic fatalities in the US. Each band represents a single year between 2000 and 2015. Each row within the band is a day of the week. From left to right (or top to bottom on small devices), you have drunk driving fatalities, non-drunk driving fatalities, and total fatalities. We’ll repeat this comparison a number of times, and the color coding in each set of graphs uses the same scale (so we compare apples to apples across the three visualizations).

For me, there are two things that stand out in this set of visualizations. First, drunk driving fatalities are heavily weighted towards weekends. Second, New Years’ Day (the left- and top-most block) is an especially dangerous time to be in the road.

As I will with the remaining posts, I repeated the same analysis on Arkansas-specific wreck information (this requires a single line of R code given below). The data is a little noisier, but the same results appear to hold. Note that this scale is different than the nationwide set. The scale is a little skewed towards lighter colors by one extremely bad Arkansas traffic Saturday in the fall of 2004.

The Code

Now to the code. First, we’ll load in all the data from the NHTSA (available at Because the files added data points over time, we’ll need to select just what we need for the visualization so we can combine them all.

# Read data elements
accidents_2015 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2015NationalDBF/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2014 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2014NationalDBF/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2013 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2013NationalDBF/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2012 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2012/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2011 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2011/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2010 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2010/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2009 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2009/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2008 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2008/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2007 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2007/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2006 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2006/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2005 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2005/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2004 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2004/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2003 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2003/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2002 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2002/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2001 <- read.dbf("Data/FARS2001/accident.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]
accidents_2000 <- read.dbf("Data/FARSDBF00/ACCIDENT.dbf")[,c("STATE", "COUNTY", "DAY", "MONTH", "YEAR", "FATALS", "DRUNK_DR")]

# Combine annual data
accidents <- rbind(accidents_2015, accidents_2014, accidents_2013, accidents_2012, accidents_2011, accidents_2010, accidents_2009, accidents_2008, accidents_2007, accidents_2006, accidents_2005, accidents_2004, accidents_2003, accidents_2002, accidents_2001, accidents_2000)

Next, if we’re looking at just Arkansas data, we need this line of code:

# Subset Arkansas wrecks
accidents <- subset(accidents, STATE == 5)

We have to add an R-specific date column to be able to use date functions later on, as follows:

# Add date column
accidents$date <- as.Date(paste(accidents$YEAR, accidents$MONTH, accidents$DAY, sep='-'), "%Y-%m-%d")

Next, we need to write the code that will let us parse the data by whether or not any driver involved in the wreck was drunk. We do this by creating R vectors. The vectors allow us to aggregate the raw wreck data by day and then subset it by whether or not it is alcohol-related, as follows:

# Subset and aggregate wrecks by drunk/not drunk
accidents_drunk <- accidents$DRUNK_DR > 0
accidents_not_drunk <- accidents$DRUNK_DR == 0
summary <- aggregate(FATALS ~ date, accidents, sum)
summary_not_drunk <- aggregate(FATALS ~ date, accidents, sum, subset=accidents_not_drunk)
summary_drunk <- aggregate(FATALS ~ date, accidents, sum, subset=accidents_drunk)

Now, we need to create empty entries for those dates that don’t have any fatal wrecks (not necessary for nationwide plots, but necessary for Arkansas-specific ones). We’ll add this to the data we created earlier.

# get vector of all days in relevant data range
start_year <- format(min(summary_not_drunk$date), "%Y") # Calculate start_year from data
firstday <- format(Sys.Date(), paste(start_year, "-01-01", sep=""))
lastday <- format(Sys.Date(), "2015-12-31")
alldays <- seq(c(ISOdate(start_year,01,01)), by="day", length.out=as.Date(lastday) - as.Date(firstday) + 1)

alldays <-
alldays <- rename(alldays, c("alldays"="date"))
alldays[["date"]] <- as.Date(alldays[["date"]], "%Y-%m-%d")

# Uses 53-week year when week 1 has < 4 days
alldays <- transform(alldays,
week = as.numeric(format(date, "%U")),
day = as.numeric(format(date, "%d")),
wday = as.numeric(format(date, "%w"))+1,
month = as.POSIXlt(date)$mon + 1,
year = as.POSIXlt(date)$year + 1900)

# initialize date vector columns to match data columns
alldays[,"FATALS"] <- NA

data <- rbind(summary, alldays)
data_drunk <- rbind(summary_drunk, alldays)
data_not_drunk <- rbind(summary_not_drunk, alldays)

Next, we’ll create some additional columns to give us the week of the year, which is how we plot the bands. This code is adapted from the very helpful r-bloggers post I mentioned in the last visualization post. As an aside, if you’re interested in data visualization, you should subscribe to r-bloggers, as those guys are always posting fascinating stuff.

data <- ddply(data,.(yearmonthf),transform,monthweek=1+week-min(week)) # and now for each monthblock we normalize the week to start at 1
data <- subset(data, select = -c(yearmonth, yearmonthf)) # Then, drop extra columns

data_drunk <- ddply(data_drunk,.(yearmonthf),transform,monthweek=1+week-min(week)) # and now for each monthblock we normalize the week to start at 1
data_drunk <- subset(data_drunk, select = -c(yearmonth, yearmonthf)) # Then, drop extra columns

data_not_drunk <- ddply(data_not_drunk,.(yearmonthf),transform,monthweek=1+week-min(week)) # and now for each monthblock we normalize the week to start at 1
data_not_drunk <- subset(data_not_drunk, select = -c(yearmonth, yearmonthf)) # Then, drop extra columns

Next, we’ll look at the maximum and minimum number of fatalities across the three sets of data we’ll be plotting. This will allow us to keep the same scale across all three plots.

max <- max(c(max(data["FATALS"], na.rm=TRUE), max(data_not_drunk["FATALS"], na.rm=TRUE), max(data_drunk["FATALS"], na.rm=TRUE)))
min <- min(c(min(data["FATALS"], na.rm=TRUE), min(data_not_drunk["FATALS"], na.rm=TRUE), min(data_drunk["FATALS"], na.rm=TRUE)))

We’re finally done with our data processing. The next step is to set up a theme for the visualization. To do this, I installed the development version of ggplot2 from github to use some of the newer features like subtitles and moving the facets (year labels) around.

# Define theme
heat_map_theme <- theme(
panel.grid.major.y = element_blank(),
panel.grid.minor.y = element_blank(),
panel.grid.minor.x = element_blank(),
panel.grid.major.x = element_blank(),
panel.spacing.x = unit(0, "points"),
panel.spacing.y = unit(1, "points"),
strip.placement = "outside",
strip.switch.pad.grid = unit(2,"points"),
strip.background = element_rect(fill="gray90", color=NA),
strip.text = element_text(color="gray5"),
axis.ticks = element_blank(),
axis.text.x = element_blank(),
axis.text.y = element_text(color="gray5", size=5),
axis.title.x = element_blank(),
axis.title.y = element_blank(),
legend.text = element_text(color="gray5"),
legend.title = element_text(color="gray5"),
plot.title = element_text(color="gray5", hjust=0.5),
plot.subtitle = element_text(color="gray5", hjust=0.5),
plot.caption = element_text(color="gray5", hjust=1, size=6),
panel.background = element_rect(fill="transparent", color=NA),
legend.background = element_rect(fill="transparent", color=NA),
plot.background = element_rect(fill="transparent", color=NA),
legend.key = element_rect(fill=alpha("white", 0.33), color=NA)

Finally, we’ll perform the plot on the three datasets and save the output. The important things here are:

  • The switch command in facet_grid function puts the years on the left, not the right
  • the limits in the scale_fill_gradient function keeps the scale the same across all three plots
  • the expand=c(0,0) function in scale_x_continuous() eliminates the padding around the plot area
# Plot and save all
ggplot(data, aes(week, weekdayf)) +
geom_tile(aes(fill=FATALS), na.rm = FALSE) +
facet_grid(year ~ ., drop = FALSE, switch="y") +
scale_fill_gradient(name="Fatalities", low="yellow", high="red", na.value = alpha("white", 0.25), limits=c(min,max)) +
scale_x_continuous(expand=(c(0,0))) +
labs(title = "2000-2015 Traffic Fatalities, Arkansas", x="", y="", subtitle="by Year", caption = "(based on data from NHTSA FARS:") +

filename <- paste(c("Images/2000-2015_fatalities_calendar (AR, all).png"), collapse="")
ggsave(filename, bg = "transparent")

# Plot and save drunk
ggplot(data_drunk, aes(week, weekdayf)) +
geom_tile(aes(fill=FATALS), na.rm = FALSE) +
facet_grid(year ~ ., drop = FALSE, switch="y") +
scale_fill_gradient(name="Fatalities", low="yellow", high="red", na.value = alpha("white", 0.25), limits=c(min,max)) +
scale_x_continuous(expand=(c(0,0))) +
labs(title = "2000-2015 Traffic Fatalities, Arkansas", x="", y="", subtitle="by Year (drunk driving only)", caption = "(based on data from NHTSA FARS:") +

filename <- paste(c("Images/2000-2015_fatalities_calendar (AR, drunk).png"), collapse="")
ggsave(filename, bg = "transparent")

# Plot and save not drunk
ggplot(data_not_drunk, aes(week, weekdayf)) +
geom_tile(aes(fill=FATALS), na.rm = FALSE) +
facet_grid(year ~ ., drop = FALSE, switch="y") +
scale_fill_gradient(name="Fatalities", low="yellow", high="red", na.value = alpha("white", 0.25), limits=c(min,max)) +
scale_x_continuous(expand=(c(0,0))) +
labs(title = "2000-2015 Traffic Fatalities, Arkansas", x="", y="", subtitle="by Year (excludes drunk driving)", caption = "(based on data from NHTSA FARS:") +

filename <- paste(c("Images/2000-2015_fatalities_calendar (AR, not drunk).png"), collapse="")
ggsave(filename, bg = "transparent")


I hope you found these visualizations useful. I’d love your feedback on what you insight you gathered from the visualizations, or any critiques on how to make them more useful.

I’m new to R, so if you’re seeing these and have suggestions for how to do things more efficiently, I’d love to see you comment.

I recently started a master’s program at UALR in information science, so I’ve been following several blogs on statistical programming and visualization. One of the best sites I’ve found is R-bloggers, which is dedicated to the popular statistical programming language R.

A recent post on R-bloggers by Lucas Puente on mapping traffic fatalities in the US caught my eye. While in private practice, I helped several Arkansas counties through the election process of voting from dry to wet. One of the often-debated issues in those races was whether the highways are safer in dry counties or wet counties. Some people believe roads are safer when alcohol is less available; other people believe that less availability means more stockpiling and more driving drunk over long distances to liquor stores after knocking a few back.

So, I decided to adapt Mr. Puente’s R program to create an Arkansas-centric map. In the R-bloggers tradition, I’ll explain the code and then present the results.

Part I: The Data

The data comes from two separate sources. First, the traffic fatality data comes from National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration open records, available at As instructed by Mr. Puente, I downloaded the file and unzipped it. 

Next, I had to get the wet/dry status of each Arkansas county. To do this, I created my own CSV (comma-separated value) file from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration’s wet/dry status page. I uploaded it to a Github public repository so others can use it.

library(foreign) # required to use read.dbf method
accidents <- read.dbf("accident.dbf")
wet_status <- read.csv(file="Ark_counties_wet_dry_status.csv")

Part II: Subsetting and Summarizing the Data

As Mr. Puente did, we’re only going to use a portion of the NHTSA’s information. However, instead of using the lower 48 states, we’re just going to use data for Arkansas. We’ll then sum the number of fatalities for all wrecks by county.

ark_accidents <- subset(accidents, STATE == 5)
ark_summary_all <- aggregate(FATALS ~ COUNTY, ark_accidents, sum) 

 Next, we’ll create a vector from the wreck subset to identify just the drunk driving wrecks. We’ll use that vector to sum drunk driving fatalities per county, then calculate a percentage of wrecks involving drunk driving fatalities for each county.

ark_accidents_drunk <- ark_accidents$DRUNK_DR > 0
ark_summary_drunk <- aggregate(FATALS ~ COUNTY, ark_accidents, sum, subset=ark_accidents_drunk)
rk_summary <- merge(ark_summary_all, ark_summary_drunk, by="COUNTY", all=TRUE)
ark_summary$percent_drunk <- ark_summary$FATALS.y / ark_summary$FATALS.x * 100

We’ll merge that data with the wet/dry status of each county. So we can color the scale differently for wet counties and dry counties, we’ll multiply the percentage by -1 for wet counties.

ark_summary <- merge(ark_summary, wet_status, by.x="COUNTY", by.y="FIPS")
ark_summary$percent_drunk <- ifelse(ark_summary$wet, ark_summary$percent_drunk * -1, ark_summary$percent_drunk)

Finally, we’ll get the midpoint of the number of drunk drivers, which we’ll use to color parts of our map later.

mid <- (which.max(accidents$DRUNK_DR) - which.min(accidents$DRUNK_DR)) / 2

Part III: Preparing the Map Data

The functions Mr. Puente describes in his tutorial have nice features that allow you to subset county and state map data by state.

county_map_data <- map_data("county", region = "arkansas")
state_map <- map_data("state", region = "arkansas")

I merged the county-level information with the wet-dry status. Then (and this is important), I reordered the path information in the county file. Otherwise the plotting function draws extra lines between counties.

county_map_data <- merge(county_map_data, ark_summary, by.x="subregion", by.y="county")
library(plyr) # necessary for arrange function
county_map_data <- arrange(county_map_data, order) # required to draw lines properly

Part IV: Creating the Map

The goal with the visualization was to show the wet/dry status of counties having drunk driving fatalities. So, the percent_drunk column we created earlier, which contains percentages from -100 to 100, serves as the fill. We’ll define a continuous scale in different colors to differentiate between wrecks occurring in wet counties and dry counties; by choosing white as the midpoint, we’ll be able to see which counties had no drunk driving wrecks in 2015, and it will also give us a gradient that shows some idea of how many wrecks occurred.

map<-ggplot() + 
# Add county borders:
geom_polygon(data=county_map_data, aes(x=long,y=lat,group=group, fill=percent_drunk), colour = alpha("grey", 1/4), size = 0.8) +
scale_fill_gradient2(name="Percentage of\nDrunk Drivers", midpoint=0, low="#5ab4ac", mid="white", high="#d8b365", na.value = "white", breaks=c(-100,0,100), labels=c("100% (wet county)", "No drunk driving\nfatalities", "100% (dry county)")) +
# Add state borders:
geom_polygon(data = state_map, aes(x=long,y=lat,group=group), colour = "grey", fill = NA) +

The next goal was to represent the number of fatalities in each wreck by the size of the point. The NHTSA dataset also contains an interesting data point for the number of drunk drivers involved, which we’ll use for the color of the point. It appears that one wreck in Pulaski County involved 3 drunk drivers and killed several people.

# Add points (one per fatality):
geom_point(data=ark_accidents, aes(x=LONGITUD, y=LATITUDE, color=DRUNK_DR, size=FATALS), alpha=0.35) +
scale_color_gradient2(name="Number of\nDrunk Drivers\nInvolved", midpoint=mid, low="lightgoldenrod4", mid="firebrick1", high="blue3", na.value="yellow") +
scale_size(name="Number of \nFatalities", range=c(3,8)) +

Finally, we’ll use Mr. Puente’s other adjustments for cleaning up the map, and then plot it.

#Adjust the map projection
coord_map("albers",lat0=39, lat1=45) +

#Add a title:
ggtitle("Arkansas Traffic Fatalities in 2015") +

#Adjust the theme:
theme_classic() +
theme(panel.border = element_blank(),
axis.text = element_blank(),
line = element_blank(),
axis.title = element_blank(),
plot.title = element_text(size=40, face="bold"))

The result is a detailed graphic that shows in a glance that 21 of 75 counties had no drunk driving fatalities in 2015. If you know anything about Arkansas highways, you can definitely see the outlines of US-70, I-30, I-40 west of Little Rock, and I-49 from Ft. Smith to Fayetteville. 

2015 Arkansas traffic fatalities. Graphic ©2016 Nathan Chaney.
2015 Arkansas traffic fatalities. Graphic ©2016 Nathan Chaney.

What do you take away from this visualization?