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25 the data collection tools virtually eliminate the most common a crash data clearinghouse or assigning trained staff and forms of mistakes so the data are more accurate and more con- resources to conduct ad hoc linkages, the important result is sistent. Crash data are available much sooner than in the past a knowledge base that can support ongoing safety data analy- and are more reliable, whether for interim reports or multiyear ses. The basics of what constitutes a knowledge base for traf- analyses. Decision makers can use current crash data and fic records are sound no matter what means is used to estab- adjust to changes much more rapidly than in the past. lish it. More important is the potential for focusing on serving users needs efficiently with knowledgeable staff that makes In many cases, local agencies (e.g., law enforcement and this concept appealing for decision makers, data system man- engineering) can reduce the need to store data locally, dramat- agers, and budget-minded agency heads alike. For these rea- ically reducing the cost of maintaining a local crash records sons, this section of the synthesis focuses on supporting the system and creating multiple copies of the same data. In addi- linkage of the crash records system to other data sources for tion, agencies that previously did not have automated sys- reporting and analysis. tems can use the statewide data as their source for informa- tion on crashes in their jurisdictions. The pressure to create redundant data systems is lessened and the agencies that con- What Is a Knowledge Base? tribute data to the statewide system can realize some cost savings, whereas others like county and city engineers and A knowledge base, whether established physically as a data planning organizations may avoid those costs altogether. For clearinghouse or as a staff that performs ad hoc linkages and agencies that wish to continue with their local systems, exports analyses, is a one-stop-shopping place to get the needed data from the statewide crash database can be made readily avail- and assistance to support highway and traffic safety analysis. able for their use. Conversely, if data are entered into their Any potential user of any component of the traffic records local system, crash records can be electronically transferred system should be able to access the knowledge base and to the state crash records system. retrieve The data they need (including multiple years of data) DATA LINKAGES FOR REPORTING from available sources, such as crash, roadway, driver/ AND ANALYSIS vehicle, medical, enforcement, and court records; Ultimately, to be worth the effort and expense of its creation Reliable databases that link records from the various and maintenance, a crash records system must support analy- data sources; ses for highway and traffic safety. Furthermore, the decisions Expert advice on the contents and limitations of these based on these analyses must yield better solutions than other data and how to use them reliably in combination; less expensive ways of making decisions. The underlying Assistance and advice on conducting analyses and inter- realization that environment, vehicles, and human factors all preting the results; and play a role in crash frequency and severity points directly Access to other traffic safety stakeholders, including to a need for data systems that can link these information data collectors, managers, and other users. sources. The current reality in most states is that no single agency has control of all the necessary data to make up a Many states are moving toward an actual data clearing- complete traffic records system. Most components of a traf- house that meets the definition of a knowledge base. Col- fic records system serve a primary operational purpose that orado, Delaware, Kentucky, and Massachusetts all have var- may be far removed from highway and traffic safety analy- ious pieces of this type of system built and available for use. sis. It is through the work of practitioners and the coopera- Many states make multiple years of linked roadway and tion of the stakeholders that anything approximating a com- crash data available to highway safety professionals. Some prehensive traffic records system can be created. It is critical states, such as Missouri, have a data clearinghouse that that data collectors and managers understand that the infor- includes not just crash and roadway data, but multiple other mation in crash records systems must be of sufficient com- roadway-related databases as well. Thus, linkage of at least pleteness, accuracy, and timeliness to be useful for highway part of the components of a traffic records system is within and traffic safety decision making. the reach of practically every state. Creation and staff sup- port of a crash data clearinghouse is not a one-time effort As the capabilities of computer systems and software and it requires ongoing resource commitments. What may have grown in recent years, the ability to support large-scale be less obvious is that a knowledge base of professionals integrated databases at a reasonable cost has become a real- that can support ad hoc linkages of data also requires con- ity. At the same time, states have worked to overcome insti- tinuous resource commitments to be successful, and most tutional barriers to sharing data with authorized users both states continue to support ad hoc linkages of the various data within and outside of government agencies. At the time of sources for safety analyses. The most successful of these this synthesis, there existed successful examples of linkage states invest in training and knowledgeable support staff to of traffic records system components. Whether establishing support these efforts.