Streamlining the Crash Reporting Process in the Pacific Northwest
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Over five million traffic crashes are reported annually in the United States, and the documentation process for every single crash begins at the scene of the incident with information gathered by a member of the law enforcement community or by a private citizen (NHTSA). This information is subsequently transmitted to a local and state agency for data entry, processing, and aggregation. Given the volume of incidents and the multiple handoffs between different parties, the likelihood of transmission error and interpretation deviation necessitates a cradle-to-grave examination of this reporting process. Furthermore, each state has developed its own independent tracking system, rendering data comparisons across state boundaries inconsistent. These collective issues justify the need to examine crash reporting and to identify a process in which data entry can be streamlined to best meet the needs of all system users, which include, but are not limited to law enforcement, local and state agency data analysts, national and state agency safety offices, and researchers and academicians who must rely on good data to draw conclusions and recommend purposeful safety improvements. This project determined where the introduction of potential errors occurs in each state’s reporting process and the respective causes. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in-person and by phone with law enforcement professionals familiar with crash report data collection and processing procedures in their respective states. The interviews were followed with a regional survey distributed to a larger population of officers. It is apparent that there are significant opportunities to improve crash report forms and officer training practices. Officers within the same agency apply different classifications for identical crash scenarios, as do different agencies within the same state. Adjacent states are using very different data collection methods, and forms are not meeting the national standard laid out in the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria, a document published by NHTSA. Opportunities exist to standardize the crash report form and strengthen training programs so that crash data that are comprehensively compiled and analyzed will accurately represent real-world conditions and benefit all end users.