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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-06-099
Date: September 2006

Traffic Safety Information Systems International Scan: Strategy Implementation White Paper

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Summary and Conclusions

The international safety data scanning tour organized and led by FHWA produced a detailed description of major safety data initiatives in Europe and Australia, and the accompanying implementation paper presented suggested strategies for bringing these and other initiatives and improvements to safety data in the United States. This paper has built on those documents by further describing major issues in U.S. safety data and by presenting a listing of detailed recommendations for improving these data. The text of this paper has been organized into the following five major strategies.

  • Strategy 1—Increase support for both safety programs and safety information systems (the data) from top-level administrators in State and local transportation agencies.
  • Strategy 2—Improve safety data by defining good inventory data and institutionalizing continual improvement toward established performance measures.
  • Strategy 3—Improve safety data by making it easier to collect, store, and use.
  • Strategy 4—Improve safety data by increasing the use of critical safety analysis tools, which themselves require good data.
  • Strategy 5—Improve and protect safety data by storage and linkage with critical nonsafety data.

Recommended substrategies and actions have been presented for each of these five strategy areas. This final section presents the recommendations again, but reorganizes them by potentially responsible agency.

Recommendations by Potentially Responsible Agency

All recommendations from the five strategies have been captured in table 1 below. Although it is clear that many of the proposed strategies could be implemented by more than one agency, the strategies in table 1 are organized by the agency who, in the opinion of the authors, would be most likely to lead the implementation—FHWA alone, FHWA and AASHTO jointly, NHTSA and FHWA and FMCSA jointly, and the States. The bulk of the recommendations are directed to FHWA—alone and in partnership with AASHTO and NHTSA/FMCSA. This is primarily due to the fact that as noted earlier, this paper focused more on deficiencies in, and thus solutions to, roadway inventory and traffic data needs than on deficiencies in crash data needs.

In each case, an attempt has been made to provide an estimate of the time frame required to capture the full benefit of the recommendation (including both development and implementation timeframe), and the relative cost of implementing the strategy (low, medium, high). With respect to timeframe, short-term represents less than 2 years, medium-term represents 3 to 5 years, and long-term represents more than 5 years. Note, however, that in some medium-term and long-term cases, the actual development of the recommended action could be less than 2 years, but the implementation would require a long-term commitment. The cost-level estimates include both development efforts (e.g., a specific research effort) and implementation and maintenance costs.

Table 1. Agency responsible for implementation of recommendations and estimated timeframe and relative cost.
Potential Responsible Agency and Relative Cost Timeframe for Development and Implementation of Recommendation
Short-Term Medium-Term Long-Term
FHWA should consider the following strategies:
Low Cost
  • Assess feasibility of improving safety data through asset management programs in the States. (1.2)
  • Develop sessions on roadway inventory and traffic data at Traffic Records Forum and the TRB annual meeting. (1.4)
  • Conduct an invitation-only meeting of roadway inventory and traffic data managers to disseminate knowledge and foster the development of a peer group. (1.4)
  • Support and coordinate with the HSM marketing plan because the HSM is likely to incorporate SafetyAnalyst in its set of approved tools, and IHSDM will serve as the software for the HSM analytical tools. (4.1)
  • Consider providing more visible support for the use of SPR funds in the development of GIS systems in State DOTs. (5.3)
  • Provide technical guidance/responses to States that have questions related to automated data collection technologies. (3.2a)
Medium Cost
  • Fund an effort to identify nonsafety uses of critical safety data elements. (1.3)
  • Fund lead IHSDM States to sell IHSDM to other States through peer-to-peer phone calls, meetings, etc. (4.1)
  • Further explore development of a USRAP program – fund such a program if found to be feasible (with support from AAA). (1.1c)
  • Support development of a roadway inventory and traffic-data knowledge base and dissemination of the knowledge to State data managers through a newsletter or other mechanism. (1.4)
  • Continue development of the digital highway measurement system. Once the system is validated, develop and implement a technology transfer effort that provides access to the vehicle by State DOTs. (3.2a)
  • Continue targeted development and marketing of, and technical assistance for, GIS-based safety data collection, extraction, and analysis tools. (5.3)
Low Cost
  • Ensure that NCHRP Project 08-54 - "Identification of Liability–Related Impediments to Sharing 409 Safety Data among Transportation Agencies, and Synthesis of Best Practices" are distributed to DOT safety managers and legal staffs. (1.3)
  • Explore the distribution of a technical memo to the States suggesting that they only purchase data collection equipment that has been validated for accuracy. (3.2a)
  • Obtain AASHTO's formal endorsement of existing and future FHWA safety analysis tools; pursue a joint tool advertising campaign.(4.1)
  • Consider convening an expert panel/focus group of DOT attorneys and risk managers to review NCHRP 08-54 and chart possible additional actions. (1.3)
  • If needed, consider requesting that Congress reexamine and modify the current section 409 legislation. (1.3)
 
Medium Cost  
  • Fund the development of a list of critical roadway inventory and traffic data elements. (2.1)
  • Fund the development of performance measures that concern data accuracy, maintenance, and storage. (2.2)
  • Fund a research effort to examine all nonsafety data sources held in State and local transportation agencies, define the source of each safety-related variable found in these files, and incorporate these elements and sources into a survey document that would be used by State and local TRCCs and other safety managers. (3.2c)
 
High Cost    
  • Establish an ongoing research program to develop or enhance technologies for the collection of critical roadway inventory and traffic safety elements. (3.2b)
FHWA, NHTSA, and FMCSA should consider the following strategies:
Low Cost
  • Supplement the normal NCHRP distribution of "Practices in Crash Reporting and Processing" by targeting additional State and local agencies and individuals involved with crash data including STRCCs. (3.1a)
  • Monitor XML-related efforts and projects to ensure appropriate variables and formats are incorporated into the schema (data structures) being developed. (2.4)
  • Strengthen the roadway safety data components of traffic records assessments with additional roadway data expertise and by developing a checklist of critical roadway inventory and traffic data elements. (2.3)
Medium Cost  
  • A research effort to identify the factors that would lead to increased use of high-end crash data collection technology by police agencies (with IACP support). (3.1b)
  • A research study to determine what factors could lead to more emphasize on better data by law enforcement administrators and more accurate reporting by police officers (e.g., training techniques, incentives for accuracy). (3.1c)
    • Explore with IACP the possibility of a safety training standard for police, similar to training standards for other aspects of police work. (3.1c)
    • A study to identify and rank critical crash data elements that are most difficult to collect and develop methods or technologies to overcome the issues. (3.1c)
    • A study to examine the cost savings and accuracy increases that might result from the use of civilian crash investigators. If this avenue is found to be effective, identify factors that would lead other agencies to implement this practice. (3.1c)
    • The development of a primer to assist States in the successful incorporation of safety data in a data warehouse. (5.1)
  • Continue to support efforts aimed at improving crash data accuracy through improvements to onboard computer technology. (3.1c)
  • Consider jointly developing a U.S. DOT safety data technology clearinghouse that will encompass all governmental or commercially developed validated technologies related to both crash and roadway inventory and traffic data. (3.2b)
High Cost    
  • Consider establishing an ongoing effort aimed at identifying and developing the next generation of critical safety-data analysis tools. (4.2)
State Departments of Transportation should consider the following strategies:
Low Cost
  • STRCCs should communicate concerns, issues, and actions regularly to top-level administrators in all represented agencies. (1.2)
 
  • State safety data managers should initiate regular meetings with, and provide feedback to, sister agencies who collect or have the potential to collect roadway inventory and traffic data. (1.3)
  • If a State's tort system does not allow failure-to-improve litigation, the State safety data managers should communicate and cooperate with their department attorneys to foster more support and use of safety data. (1.3)
Medium Cost    
  • Request traffic records assessments on a regular basis, and find the resources necessary to implement the recommendations. (2.3)
  • Consider establishing a data user/owner committee that would include a well-staffed secretariat and representatives of all potentially linkable roadway inventory and traffic databases. (5.2)
  • Consider establishing data-for-data partnerships with local agencies as a possible avenue to increase collection of improved safety data. (5.4)
High Cost    
  • Consider developing data warehouses to incorporate crash and roadway inventory and traffic data with other State transportation databases. (5.1)
  • Accelerate and expand the development of GIS-based computer systems for all crash and roadway inventory and traffic data. (5.3)
  • Make local-agency access to the State database as user-friendly as possible, including the development, distribution, and support of data extraction and analysis tools. (5.4)

to the sponsor. For reference, recommendations requiring a specific research project were defined as "medium cost." Again, these are only relative judgments to provide some input into decisions concerning programming of the recommendations.

Prioritization of Recommendations

All of these recommendations are considered important, or they would not be included in this paper. Initially, consideration was given to providing a further prioritization of the 38 recommendations captured in the above text by providing top-two recommendations for each responsible-agency group. However, this was not done for three reasons. First, it is extremely difficult to predict in advance which of the many recommendations will lead to the greatest improvements in safety data. Their ultimate benefit will depend on a number of factors including the success of necessary development efforts (e.g., research studies) and the degree to which the ultimate collectors of safety data—the State and local transportation agencies—implement a given recommended change. Second, this type of prioritization within a responsible-agency group could fail to recognize an even more important recommendation in a different group. Thus, a recommendation judged to be in the top two within one of the five strategy areas may not be as important as a strategy that did not make the top-two list in another strategy area. Third, there is some fear that paring down the full list of 41 recommendations to only 10 will ultimately result in the other 31 being denied the attention they deserve. As noted above, all are believed to be important, and presenting the full list will allow the responsible agencies to choose the ones they believe are most important and most feasible.

Given these concerns and after careful consideration, a decision was made to include a listing of most-important recommendations, which was determined by a focus group of safety data experts convened to review and discuss the draft version of this paper. The group consisted of eight State and local roadway safety engineers, crash data specialists, roadway inventory data specialists, and information technology experts. The list of focus group participants is included in appendix C. Following a detailed discussion by the group of all 38 recommendations present at the time of the meeting, each participant (including the authors and the FHWA Task Manager) rated each recommendation as "high," "medium," or "lower." Participants were asked to distribute their ratings so that approximately one-third were high, one-third were medium, and one-third were in the "lower" category. The rankings were then combined, and table 2 lists the highest-ranked 13 of the 38 recommendations, the top one-third.

Note that three recommendations were added after the panel meeting and were not rated by the panel: explicit recommendations for (1) States to regularly request traffic records assessments by an independent agency, (2) for STRCCs to report regularly to top-level administrators to raise agency awareness of records issues and needs, and (3) for FHWA, NHTSA, and FMCSA to explore with IACP the possibility of a safety training standard for police, similar to training standards for other aspects of police work. Finally, also note that the composition of the panel, which was weighted heavier to the roadway and inventory data rather than to crash data, clearly might have affected the rankings. Clearly, any other group may have developed a different priority list. Given all these caveats, table 2 provides at least some input concerning priorities from a group of national safety-data experts.

CONCLUSION

Excellent crash, roadway inventory, and traffic data are critical to making decisions concerning roadway planning, roadway design and improvement, vehicle design, and driver programs—all of which affect the safety of the driving public. Safety data will become even more critical as our national, State, and local departments of transportation, and indeed the entire safety field, move to more fact-based safety decisions and to performance-based programs. Current safety data will not meet these challenges in many cases. AASHTO recognized this fact in the publication Strategic Highway Safety Plan, where the core element of management included the need to (1) improve the information and decision support systems and (2) create more effective process and safety management systems. The recently passed SAFETEA-LU legislation has subsequently mandated improvements in safety data and includes provisions for Federal funding to help address some of the data issues presented in this paper.

This paper has described a number of issues with current data and a series of potential solutions to these issues. It is hoped that this description will not only increase the national discussion of how safety data can be improved, but that at least some of the solutions suggested will be implemented and will result in improvements in data that will lead to decisions that will help solve one of the largest public health problems faced by the United States—highway crashes.

Table 2. Highest priority strategies as ranked by focus group attendees.
Strategy Strategy Task Description
3.1d NHTSA and FHWA, with input/assistance from IACP, should consider a research study aimed at determining what factors could lead to more emphasis on accurate data by law enforcement administrators and more accurate reporting by police officers, including exploration of training effects (and if effective, techniques), incentives for accuracy, and other possible factors.
5.3a State DOTs should continue and accelerate the development of GIS-based computer systems for all types of safety files, crash and noncrash.
2.1 FHWA or AASHTO should fund the development of a listing of critical noncrash data elements.
5.1a All States should consider the development of data warehouses that incorporate crash and noncrash data with other State transportation databases. To generate new safety-data users and to make data use easier for existing users, the data warehouse should include a safety knowledge base, including data content expertise, data dictionaries, analytical assistance, and a customer service component.
3.1b NHTSA and FHWA, with input/assistance from IACP, should fund a research effort to identify the factors that would lead to increased use of high-end crash data collection technology by police agencies.
3.1c NHTSA and FHWA should continue to support efforts aimed at improving crash data accuracy through improvements to the onboard computer technology.
5.4a States should make local-agency access to the State database as user-friendly as possible, including the development, distribution, and support of appropriate data extraction and analysis tools to their local partners.
1.4c FHWA should consider developing and funding an invitation-only meeting of key noncrash data managers to disseminate knowledge and foster the development of a peer group.
2.2 FHWA or AASHTO should fund the development of performance measures that concern data accuracy, maintenance, and storage.
2.3 NHTSA and FHWA should strengthen the roadway safety data components of the existing traffic records assessments by adding additional roadway data expertise and by developing a checklist of critical noncrash data elements. This list could be based on existing FHWA uses (e.g., HSIS) and tools (i.e., IHSDM and SafetyAnalyst).
1.3e FHWA and AASHTO should consider convening an expert panel/focus group of DOT attorneys and risk managers to review NCHRP 08-54 and chart possible additional actions.
1.4b FHWA should consider developing special sessions on noncrash data in both the International Traffic Records Forum and the TRB annual meeting.
3.2b FHWA should continue the development, validation, and refining of its data collection vehicle, and once the vehicle is validated, FHWA should develop and implement a technology transfer effort that helps State DOTs access the vehicle. Top priority for use should be given to States participating in FHWA's Highway Safety Information System.
3.2c FHWA and AASHTO should establish an ongoing research program to develop new technologies, which would ease collection of critical noncrash safety elements. This effort could include both new development and the modification of technologies and methodologies now being used in nonsafety areas.

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