Oversight Report Finds State Traffic Safety Data Systems Improving

Government Accountability Office warns that limited resources and coordination could thwart improvement of data systems' quality.

by / April 19, 2010

A recent government oversight report found the quality of traffic safety data systems vary by state and while gains are being made, limited resources and coordination can thwart further progress.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office -- the investigative arm of Congress -- analyzed traffic records assessments and found that the quality of state traffic safety data systems differed across the six types of data systems maintained by states. Those data systems include vehicle, driver, roadway, crash, citation and adjudication and injury surveillance.

  • Highlights of the report include:Across all states, vehicle and driver data systems met performance measures (which includes timeliness, consistency, completeness, accuracy, accessibility and integration) 71 percent and 60 percent of the time, respectively while roadway, crash, citation and adjudication, and injury surveillance data systems met performance measures less than half the time.
  • Data system quality varies by performance measure. For example, across all data systems, states met the performance measure for consistency 72 percent of the time, but states met the integration performance measure 13 percent of the time.
  • Of the 51 assessments the GAO reviewed, 49 had insufficient information to fully determine the quality of at least one data system. Furthermore, an updated assessment format has resulted in more frequent instances of insufficient information.

The GAO used data collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in completing its report. The oversight agency also analyzed state traffic records assessments, visited eight states and interviewed federal officials and other traffic safety experts.

States must submit plans which include fatality and crash data analyses to identify areas for improvement in order to qualify for federal funding.

Despite the variations in state traffic safety data system performance, states are making some progress toward improving system quality, the GAO report said. "All states GAO visited have implemented projects to improve data systems, such as switching to electronic data reporting and adopting forms consistent with national guidelines," the report said. "However, states face resource and coordination challenges in improving traffic safety data systems."

For example, custodians of data systems are often located in different state agencies, which make coordination difficult, the report said. Also, rural and urban areas may face greater challenges in improving data systems, such as limited technology options in rural areas or timely processing of large volumes of data in urban areas.

States the GAO visited have attempted to overcome these challenges, which in some cases included establishing an executive-level traffic records coordinating committee, on top of the technical-level committee that states must have to qualify for traffic safety grant funding.

The GAO recommended the NHTSA take steps to ensure state traffic records assessments are complete and consistent to provide an in-depth evaluation of all state traffic safety data systems across all performance measures.

"NHTSA should also study and communicate to Congress on the value of requiring an executive-level traffic records coordinating committee for states to qualify for traffic safety grant funding," the report stated. "DOT agreed with those recommendations."