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23 Edit checks in a crash collection tool can serve as a training or later during analyses of the data. The document manage- tool by providing feedback to the law enforcement department ment system can easily be modified to adjust routing of doc- and the officer immediately on receipt. Instead of finding out uments to various stations to be handled, such as to the FARS about errors months after the event, officers and supervisors analyst. can get immediate feedback while the information is still fresh and the people involved in the crash can easily be contacted. What Is Crash Processing and Management? This continuous training and feedback improves the overall quality of the crash data. A successful crash records system accepts electronic data from law enforcement agencies throughout the state, either CRASH PROCESSING AND MANAGEMENT directly or from local crash records systems. The hope of col- lecting all crash reports electronically may never be realized; The official crash records custodian typically resides in a however, most states are able to significantly reduce their man- DOT, department of revenue (DOR), or department of pub- ual data entry process by working with state police and large lic safety. In any case, the responsibility for collecting and local law enforcement agencies. Through a combination of managing crash data may not be a central mission of the cus- an automated crash data collection tool and web-based crash todial agency and it may, at best, be responsible for the field report forms for use by departments that lack field automa- data collection of only a portion of the data they manage. For tion, the majority of the crash reports could be delivered to example, the primary operational missions of a DOR are to the state crash database in electronic form. This has the advan- title vehicles, license drivers, and collect fees. If a DOR is the tage of creating a centralized record that includes all fields on custodial agency for crashes, and yet it is rarely a user of the crash report form, already checked for accuracy and com- those data, there may not be an understanding or emphasis on pleteness, and available in the database in a timely fashion expending resources to develop a successful crash records following completion by the crash investigator. system. Likewise, when another agency is the custodian of the crash records system, but would like to link to driver and Examples of successful systems include those where the vehicle files, the DOR may not have their operational data in state encourages electronic data by a form that is conducive to combining with crash data. Defining standards for acceptance of crashes into their Traditionally, agency staff works from a paper forms pro- system (e.g., Maryland and Michigan). cess and enters data manually to create a crash records system. Making data collection software free to the local agen- Typically, specially trained staff has completed required tasks, cies (e.g., Iowa and Kentucky). such as adding location codes and pre-processing coding Allowing officers to work directly on-line to the state forms before data entry. The information is entered as system (e.g., Illinois and Indiana). recorded on the form (or as annotated by the location coders and others). In some cases, such as in the Arkansas system, off- The most successful systems accommodate both elec- site contractors do the data entry. In Tennessee's state crash tronic and paper crash forms. With the view that there will records system, a batch transaction file is run through a series always be some level of manual data entry required, changes of edit checks before the crash is added to the official database to the state's processing of paper documents is usually required when it moves to accept electronic data. These pro- and error reports are printed from the overnight data run. Until cess changes typically result from the need to retain an image recently, an entire batch of 25 to 50 crash reports had to all pass archive. The reason for this process change is that managing the edit checks before any single crash could be accepted into paper documents is not the same as processing electronic the system. Either the errors that would block acceptance of forms when it comes time to generate an image. The electronic the crash report are corrected or, as is still the case in many form exists as data in a database. It contains the narrative and states, the form is returned to the officer who wrote the origi- diagram and many other fields that are not typically entered nal report. For states using this traditional procedure, the data manually into a crash records system. In other words, it is pos- entry lag is such that there is little expectation that a returned sible to generate the image of a crash report form from data crash report will ever make it back for entry into the system. created electronically, but it may not be possible to do so with a crash record entered manually without a diagram or narra- In most states, a separate process of document manage- tive. If all paper crashes are digitally imaged in a document ment is accomplished either through microfilm, paper stor- management system, however, it is much easier for users to age, or, more recently, digital imaging. This process creates locate all of the crash forms when needed. an archive of the original crash report forms for later use and is used to route the crash record to the appropriate staff for entry into the crash records system. The most successful Why Create a Crash Records System? examples of document management include a digital imag- ing component that allows paper crash forms and supple- There are numerous benefits of creating a successful crash mental documentation to be accessed easily during data entry records system. Two examples are the reduced cost of data

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24 entry and the reduction in duplicate data entry into multiple stored in an image archive database. This image is never crash records systems. The data entry staff will only have to changed, but newly received updates to the crash report data deal directly with those reports that are submitted on paper. may result in a new image that can be added to the historical The state may still need specialized post-processing staff to image archive. The image archive stores all versions of the handle location codes (or at least verification of locations), as crash report required by state law and the policies of the cus- well as any other post-processing that cannot be automated. todial agency. However, the overall data entry requirements will be much more focused toward quality control issues once a sizable The web-based crash data entry form can also be used by portion of the crashes is submitted electronically. This has agencies that lack the resources to implement field data record- the immediate effect of reducing the backlog of crash reports ing. This system would have the same edit checks and transfer awaiting data entry. Because the reports are checked for errors procedures as the crash data collection tool. A crash report that sooner (even paper reports get attention sooner than before), passes the edit checks on the web-based form is forwarded it is much more likely that errors can be corrected. Crash to the crash records system where it can be processed just like reports received electronically will have already gone through any other electronically submitted crash report. The newly error checking and validation before acceptance into the state- developed Texas crash records system includes just such a wide system; therefore, overall quality of the crash data will web-based tool for use by smaller law enforcement agencies be improved. that do not believe that they have a need for a complete crash data collection tool or do not have the equipment to support Another benefit of a successful crash records system is its automation in the field. ability to deal with image archiving in a more reliable and less space-intensive fashion. For crash reports that arrive in Some local agencies may still submit a paper crash report electronic form, the image can be generated by the system as form. The processing of these forms can be imaged with a dig- needed and need not be stored as a graphic file. If the storage ital scanning process and the data entry operation can consist of graphic files is desired to maintain a record of changes to of a heads-up display for processing of the form's content and the crash report, the storage media are smaller and less prone for review. The new Illinois and Indiana crash records sys- to damage or image degradation than are microfilm or hard tems use digital document management systems and heads- copy storage. Thus, the cost of maintaining the archive is up data entry in this manner. The data entry employee still reduced. Staff time required to create the image archive will has to key in much of the form; however, it is now entered diminish as more crash reports are received electronically. more quickly and there is no handling of paper once the Most states using state-of-the-art document management imaging process is completed. When data entry is completed, systems are able to image their crash report forms and all the data for this crash are stored in the same manner as if it supplemental documentation well within 24 h of receipt had been submitted electronically. (e.g., Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa). The reason for the pending file in the crash records system Aside from the technical benefits, however, the primary is to allow for any necessary post-processing, including loca- reason to create a successful crash records system is the advan- tion verification and supervisory review. For example, the tage that all users can access the same crash data that is com- crash data collection tool in Illinois allows an officer to pin- plete, timely, and accurate. The time and financial resources point a location on a map; however, because of the impor- currently expended on crash data collection, management tance of location coding to the Illinois DOT, a post-process and use, and multiple agencies and jurisdictions can be location unit verifies the coordinates based on the description reduced significantly through coordinating these efforts. A of that location from their roadway characteristics database. successful crash records system will allow access to images Once the location has been verified, the roadway and traffic as well as data, will be linkable to other data sources for characteristics are automatically linked to the crash record. safety analyses, and will provide a stable and reliable source Once this post-processing is complete, the data are added to of information for decision making. the official crash database, often within 24 h of receipt at the custodial agency. The image archive is updated nightly so that it too is available within 24 h of receipt. As much as pos- How Crash Processing and Management Work sible, the post-processing is automated so that most crash When a crash report is completed using a crash data collec- reports need minimal intervention to be added to database tion tool, the resulting data can be forwarded to the crash and image archives. records system through a secure connection (e.g., TCP/IP, secure ftp, or other transfer protocol). At the receiving end, Ancillary Benefits of Crash Processing the data are run through any additional edit checks that may and Management be needed and added to a pending file of the crash records system. At the same time, the image of the crash can be gen- A successful crash records system has data that are timely, erated using a graphic form processing tool and the image is complete, and more accurate than ever before. Edit checks in