U.S. DOT Data Visualization Student Challenge: Official Rules


The United States Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Data Visualization Challenge (the “Challenge”) is an initiative of the U.S. DOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).  The Challenge is intended showcase the potential for data visualization as a technique for presenting transportation data and informing policy decisions through data visualization products submitted by individual students or teams of individual students (collectively, "Contestants").

Any elements of the Challenge described in the “details” section of this Challenge posting on challenge.gov are wholly incorporated as part of the rules of this contest.


1. Eligibility

The Challenge is open only to: (1) persons who are at least eighteen years old at the time of entry who are either citizens of the United States or permanent residents and are currently enrolled at a higher education institution defined as an accredited public or private university or college (including community, junior, or vocational college); and (2) teams of eligible individuals.  An individual may join more than one team.  Employees of the U.S. Department of Transportation are not eligible.  The Challenge is subject to all applicable federal laws and regulations. Participation constitutes Contestant's full and unconditional agreement to these Official Rules and administrative decisions, which are final and binding in all matters related to the Challenge. Eligibility for a prize award is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements set forth herein.


2. Challenge Submission Period

The Challenge Submission Period begins on July 29, 2011, at 12:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and ends on October 31, 2011, at 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST).


3. How to Enter and Submission Requirements

Submission Format

There are two basic steps for entry:

  1. Create an interesting data visualization piece and accompanying summary:  Select a topic that addresses the goal areas of Safety or Economic Development and create an interesting data visualization product that demonstrates support to decision makers for that topic.  The data visualization product should clearly display added insight in support of a given policy or investment topic.  Identify relevant data and build your data visualization. Develop a summary of your data visualization product that explains your topic, how data visualization improves understanding of your topic, and what conclusions the data visualization helps make.  The summary shall not exceed 650 words.
  2. Submit your entry:  Register and log on at http://dataviz.challenge.gov to submit your entry.

An entry into the Challenge consists of your data visualization piece and accompanying summary to the U.S DOT (together, the “Entry Materials”). All Entry Materials must be in English. All requested information must be provided for your entry to be valid.

Submissions may be updated by the submitter until the Challenge Submission Period ends.

Submission Content

Using data sets including those provided by the U.S. DOT, create a data visualization product that addresses critical transportation policy or investment questions related to transportation safety or economic development.


Improving safety throughout the transportation network is the premier goal of the Department of Transportation. Safety measures include rates of transportation-related deaths and transportation-related injuries.  Many factors may influence these rates.  For example:

In 2005, 43,510 people were killed on our nation’s roadways at a rate of 1.46 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.  In 2009, the number of people killed fell to 33,808 at a rate of 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009.  There are many theories to explain the source of the improvement including:  the effects of the economic downturn; manufacturers creating safer vehicles; success of safety campaigns such as those against drunk driving and distracted driving; higher rates of seatbelt use; and engineering improvements to roads and highways. 

A sample visualization topic could be to examine through data visualization, the impacts of one or more of the above sources on improving the safety measure of rates of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled between 2005 and 2009. 

The data visualization topic could also focus on local issues.  For example, drawing from local data sources, how have improvements on an intersection, corridor or bus route helped to improve safety?  If no improvements have yet to be made, can the safety incident data be presented in a way that points to what countermeasures can be taken to improve safety? 

Possible data sources

1)     The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database: http://www.nhtsa.gov/FARS.

2)     U.S. Census database: http://www.census.gov/.

3)     State and local department of transportation data: Talk to your local DOT!

4)     Other data sources as you see fit.

5)     Reduction in transportation-related deaths

6)     Reduction in transportation-related injuries

Economic Development

The competition for transportation development dollars is fierce.  It is important for decision makers to know that their investment decisions will lead to positive outcomes for desired targets, be it safety, mobility/livability, security or economic growth. 

The impact of transportation delays on economic growth has been well documented.  In April 2011 a new rule went into effect aimed at curbing the practice of airlines holding passengers on the tarmac for long periods while awaiting gates or runways.  Since that rule went into effect, the number of incidents of excessive tarmac time has dropped.  A possible side effect of the rule has been an increase in flight cancellations, resulting in individuals potentially being delayed further. 

An investment example of possible unintended consequences of decisions is the case where a new runway added at a 4 runway airport may be anticipated to add 25 percent to the overall airport capacity, but due to added operational complexity, a lower level of capacity is achieved.

There is a broad range of aviation data available for application to data visualization.  In addition to the above examples, sample topics could include:

  • Explore the relationship between airline on-time performance and airport capacity utilization across the country.  This can be examine by time of day and/or geography
  • What is the relationship between individual flight delays and passenger delay due to late arrivals and missed transfers?
  • What is the effect of weather and the seasons on airline on-time performance?
  • Examine the impact of changes to airline capacity, air fares, oil prices, theU.S.economy, and the overall financial performance of the airline industry over the years.

Possible data sources

1)     The Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ airline information:  http://www.bts.gov/programs/airline_information/.

2)     FAA data source?

3)     The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ economics account data: http://www.bea.gov/.

4)     Other data sources as you see fit.


4. Submission Judging

Challenge submissions will be scored in each of four criteria, as listed below.

1. Creativity and aesthetics of data visualization.

Like artwork, data visualization products should be designed to capture the attention of the reader through creative use of visuals, layout, and animations (if applicable).  How original and attractive is the data visualization product?

2. Success in translating multiple data sets into relevant visual information.

At the core of data visualization is its potential to synthesize multiple, large datasets to deliver relevant and actionable information to the reader in a visually compelling way.  How well does the data visualization product accomplish this?

3. Relevance to the goal areas of better understanding policy or investment problems related to transportation safety or economic development.

Does the author’s submission contribute to a potential policy or investment issue in transportation safety or economic development?

4. Demonstrated value in assisting decision makers.

Does the information presented in the data visualization product and summary shed new light on a transportation issue that otherwise would not have been seen?

The data visualization product submissions will judged by a qualified panel of BTS stakeholders selected by the U.S. DOT at its sole discretion. The panel will judge the entire submission (data visualization product and summary text) on the judging criteria identified above in order to select the awardees. Judges have the right to withdraw without advance notice in the event of circumstances beyond their control.


5. Verification of Potential Winners


Potential winners must continue to comply with all terms and conditions of these Official Rules, and winning is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements. The potential winners will be notified by email, telephone, or mail after the date of the judging. The potential winners will be required to sign and return to U.S. DOT, within ten (10) days of the date notice is sent, an Affidavit of Eligibility and Liability/Publicity Release (except where prohibited) in order to claim any recognition. In the event that a potential winner of a Challenge recognition is disqualified for any reason, U.S. DOT may award the applicable recognition to an alternate winner who had the highest score remaining of the eligible entries.


6. Awards

Two grand prizes will be awarded. Depending on the number of Submissions, the U.S. DOT may also recognize several submissions through the U.S. DOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration website.

Following the announcement of the award, the grand prize awardees will be honored at the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., which lasts from January 22-26, 2012.  Authorized travel expenses will be paid for up to one member of each team awarded the grand prize to attend the conference in its entirety and present their work. These expenses include the TRB Annual Meeting registration fee, transportation, meals and lodging. If a winning team consists of more than one individual, the team must designate the individual who will represent the team at TRB. Travelers will need to provide receipts to document travel expenses and the travel expenses will be reimbursed according to Federal Government travel rules and regulations, including 41 CFR 300-3.1 (Invitational Travel).  Maximum reimbursement rates for travel to Washington, D.C. are published by the General Services Administration here (http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/100120); these limits apply to the awards made in this Challenge.  No air travel with origins or destinations outside the U.S. (including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa) will be purchased, reimbursed or otherwise covered through the awards made in this Challenge. No cash equivalent or substitute compensation will be made in place of the authorized travel expenses.

In addition, each of the two grand prize winning teams will be awarded a $2,000 (US) education scholarship by BTS.  If a winning team consists of more than one individual, the team must designate the individual who will receive the scholarship.  Upon receiving the scholarship, the team may choose to divide the award at its own discretion.

The submitting individual may designate, within 10 business days following notification of award, other persons to whom to redirect the award.


7. Submission Rights

Each Contestant grants to the U.S. DOT and others acting on behalf of the U.S. DOT, a royalty-free non-exclusive worldwide license to use, copy for use, perform publicly, and display publicly all parts of the Submission for the purposes of the Challenge. This license includes posting or linking to the Submission on the official U.S. DOT website and making it available for use by the public.


8. Entry Conditions and Release

By entering, each Contestant agrees to: (a) comply with and be bound by these Official Rules and the decisions of the U.S. DOT and/or the Challenge judges which are binding and final in all matters relating to this Challenge; (b) release and hold harmless the U.S. DOT and any other organizations responsible for sponsoring, fulfilling, administering, advertising or promoting the Challenge, and all of their respective past and present officers, directors, employees, agents and representatives (collectively, the "Released Parties") from and against any and all claims, expenses, and liability, including but not limited to negligence and damages of any kind to persons and property, including but not limited to invasion of privacy (under appropriation, intrusion, public disclosure of private facts, false light in the public eye or other legal theory), defamation, slander, libel, violation of right of publicity, infringement of trademark, copyright or other intellectual property rights, property damage, or death or personal injury arising out of or relating to a Contestant’s entry, creation of an entry or submission of an entry, participation in the Challenge, acceptance or use or misuse of prize (including any travel or activity related thereto) and/or the broadcast, transmission, performance, exploitation or use of entry; and (c) indemnify, defend and hold harmless the U.S. DOT against any and all claims, expenses, and liabilities (including reasonable attorneys fees) arising out of or relating to a Contestant's participation in the Challenge and/or Contestant's acceptance, use or misuse of a prize or recognition.


9. Publicity

Except where prohibited, participation in the Challenge constitutes Contestant’s consent to U.S. DOT's and its agents' use of Contestant’s name, likeness, photograph, voice, opinions, and/or hometown and state for promotional purposes in any media, worldwide, without further payment or consideration.


10. General Conditions

The U.S. DOT reserves the right to cancel, suspend and/or modify the Challenge, or any part of it, if any fraud, technical failures or any other factor beyond the U.S. DOT’s reasonable control impairs the integrity or proper functioning of the Challenge, as determined by the U.S. DOT in its sole discretion. The U.S. DOT reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual or Contestant it finds to be tampering with the entry process or the operation of the Challenge or to be acting in violation of these Official Rules or any other promotion or in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner. Any attempt by any person to deliberately undermine the legitimate operation of the Challenge may be a violation of criminal and civil law, and, should such an attempt be made, the U.S. DOT reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law.  The U.S. DOT’s failure to enforce any term of these Official Rules shall not constitute a waiver of that provision. The U.S. DOT is not responsible for, nor are they required to count, incomplete, late, misdirected, damaged, unlawful or illicit votes, including those secured through payment, votes achieved through automated means or by registering more than one e-mail account and name, using another Contestant's e-mail account and name, as well as those lost for technical reasons or otherwise.


11. Limitations of Liability

The Released Parties are not responsible for: (1) any incorrect or inaccurate information, whether caused by Contestants, printing errors or by any of the equipment or programming associated with or utilized in the Challenge; (2) technical failures of any kind, including, but not limited to malfunctions, interruptions, or disconnections in phone lines or network hardware or software; (3) unauthorized human intervention in any part of the entry process or the Challenge; (4) technical or human error which may occur in the administration of the Challenge or the processing of entries; or (5) any injury or damage to persons or property which may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from Contestant's participation in the Challenge or receipt or use or misuse of any prize. If for any reason a Contestant's entry is confirmed to have been erroneously deleted, lost, or otherwise destroyed or corrupted, Contestant's sole remedy is another entry in the Challenge. No more than the stated number of prizes will be awarded.


12. Original Work, Plagiarism, and Copyright

Contestant warrants that he or she is the sole author and owner of the Submission, and that the Submission is wholly original with the Contestant, and that it does not infringe any copyright or any other rights of any third party of which Contestant is aware. The U.S. DOT reserves the right to not accept any video which it believes infringes on the intellectual property rights of others.


13. Privacy

Any personal information provided to the U.S. DOT by submitting an entry to this Challenge is used only to communicate on matters regarding the submission and/or the Challenge. Information is not collected for commercial marketing.