When a motor vehicle collision occurs, forms are filled out with the accident’s details, usually by the police. Copies of the forms are then used to help compile national figures regarding various aspects of vehicular crashes. Each state has its own version of the form, meaning there is no consistency across our nation. The problem is called “incomplete crash data,” and experts believe we could save some of the lives now tragically lost if we only knew more.
Each year, approximately 40,000 people die in traffic accidents. Those who suffer severe injuries add up to 4.6 million. We need to reduce those numbers by any reasonable means possible.
The NSC’s Report
A study carried out by the National Safety Council (NSC) looked at police reports from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. From scrutinizing the forms they were able to determine which data is not being recorded. Some states lack more of the crucial fields or codes on their forms than others. However, no state captures all of the data needed by traffic safety organizations and the government to understand the true reasons for crashes and to track trends.
What we do know is this: From the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey conducted by the NHTSA between 2005 and 2007, 94 percent of all crashes were caused by driver error. The types of errors made by drivers included:
- Recognition errors: distraction, inattention, or inadequate watchfulness (41 percent of crashes)
- Decision errors: misjudging others’ speed or intentions or driving too fast for road conditions (33 percent of crashes)
- Performance errors: poor control of the vehicle or overcompensating (11 percent of crashes).
Because driver error causes nearly all crashes, and because driver error can take many forms, it is critical that a state’s forms track all of the possible reasons why a specific collision occurred.
Here’s an example of determining the real reason for a crash where driver error is involved. Let’s say one driver ran into another vehicle while merging onto an interstate. You might think that an illegal merge, failure to yield, or perhaps even speeding would be some of the reasons the accident happened. However, you’d be wrong. The fundamental reason the crash happened might be because the driver was drowsy, or distracted by their phone chirping with a text message, or impaired from having one too many drinks—or maybe even all three. If a form does not list all the possible reasons a collision occurred, incomplete data is the result.
We need as much data as possible about crashes, especially where it concerns new technologies and driver error trends, so we can better regulate traffic flow. Shifting public policy in order to short-circuit new developments in car collisions can save lives.
Which Fields are Needed Most on Forms?
The general areas in which a number of factors were spelled out in the NSC’s report included alcohol, drugs, fatigue, whether the driver was a teen or novice, distraction factors, speed, whether the drive was work-related, and ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, a set of technologies which go by a number of names). All of these factors encompass situations and behaviors that need fields and codes to track a collision’s specific reasons. But it is worth noting that, according to the NSC:
- No state form records the level of driver fatigue by asking how recently they slept.
- No state form records the use of driver assistance systems.
- 47 state forms do not record the use of infotainment systems that might have been running.
- 47 state forms do not record license restrictions because a teen or novice driver was at the wheel.
- 32 state forms do not record hands-free phone usage.
- 26 state forms do not record texting as a possible factor.
What’s on South Carolina’s Forms?
The South Carolina crash report forms currently include the following codes or fields:
- The BAC (blood alcohol concentration) and BrAC (breath alcohol concentration) readings from all drivers
- The BAC (blood alcohol concentration) and BrAC (breath alcohol concentration) readings from all others in the crash
- The specific drugs that were identified by any drug tests
- The appearance of the driver’s drowsiness or fatigue, or evidence of sleeping
- Evidence of cell phone usage (for example, the driver is holding a phone)
- Whether the trip was for personal reasons
- The best estimate of the miles per hour the car was traveling prior to impact
- The speed limit that is posted for the area.
When we have a clear picture of why collisions are taking place, we will have the necessary data to make the changes in policies, regulations and laws that will save lives. We hope that the NSC’s study will bring greater uniformity in state forms across the U.S. so that traffic fatalities can be reduced through knowledge.