New online access to an interactive traffic crash database is giving the public a more complete picture of highway safety in Virginia.

Virginia’s Traffic Records Electronic Data System (TREDS) is now available through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website, providing residents, safety advocates, researchers the ability to create their own crash reports with the data.

The information in TREDS will enable users to research accident trends and examine data from one centralized location instead of requesting that information from different Virginia agencies.

Richard Holcomb, commissioner of the Virginia DMV said that prior to the TREDS database coming online in 2009, accident reports containing 150 data items would be written manually by law enforcement officials, mailed to DMV, and that information would be shared with various state agencies.

From there, it took six to nine months before each entity had entered crash data in their own systems. But now that the process is entirely electronic and takes just hours to enter that information into the system.

Holcomb said that thanks to TREDS and more specifically, its new online access capability, Virginians could potentially be safer and accident trends might be spotted by government officials in a much timelier manner.

“We are all very conscious about crashes involving juveniles, and with this generation of kids so technologically advanced we want them ... to be able to go on our website and see for themselves what the challenges may be,” Holcomb explained, referring to the crash data.

He added that elected officials would also benefit from the trends uncovered by the data, as it will allow them to move quickly to send public safety resources to a particular area where accidents happen more frequently or draft legislation to address problems.

“Linking the data together in a common format is efficient and creates more comprehensive, accurate crash statistics,” Holcomb said in a statement announcing TREDS online functionality. “TREDS gives us a 360-degree view of crashes and their causes, which can aid in preventing future traffic fatalities.”

Development and Future Plans

Jen Peters, program manager on the TREDS project, explained that the database was developed by a group of contractors operating under DMV management and was built using the “agile” methodology of software development, where projects are done in stages with multiple teams.

In addition, TREDS was built without state dollars. Only federal highway safety funds were used on the project.

Holcomb revealed that TREDS has enabled Virginia to eliminate five full-time positions and save approximately $1 million per year due to increased efficiency. But the work on TREDS and the information that is made available to the public isn’t done.

In 2012, additional data sets will be made available to those accessing TREDS online. That information will include the ability to create and sort crash reports by street location, age and the gender of people involved in accidents. No personal information of individuals involved in crashes would be released, however.

The information to be released to the public next year on TREDS is currently available for use by state personnel. But Holcomb said the programming work needed to get it online is taking a little more time so he decided to roll out the online public access to TREDS in stages, rather than wait.

“We want the public to have access to that data as well, so they can determine what’s happening in their jurisdiction,” Holcomb said. “Certainly we think the phase II where you can look road by road, or gender or age will be even more information for the traveling public to allow them to know where there may be some challenges.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.