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91 traffic records system is distributed among a variety of agen- particular, is an opportunity to get expert advice from a cies at the state and sometimes the local levels of government. neutral third party (a panel of peers/practitioners in various Federal databases rely almost exclusively on state data, which traffic records disciplines). An up-to-date assessment is also in turn depends almost exclusively on data collected (and required to maintain eligibility for some federal funds. (See perhaps stored) locally. These dependencies place the most http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov.) emphasis on quality improvement on the agencies that are · Develop and maintain a Strategic Plan for Traffic Records furthest from the money and other resources that are avail- Improvement. A Strategic Plan serves as a roadmap to get able for data quality improvement. To obtain grants, local from the current system (with all its shortcomings) to the agencies typically have to show that they have a numerically desired traffic records system one that meets the defined large highway traffic safety problem, and that they have a needs of its users. The TRCC should take the lead in devel- valid solution to those problems, and that the benefits of oping and maintaining the plan, and the plan itself should improving their traffic records information outweigh the include a detailed series of actions that are assigned to spe- costs of the programs they are hoping to fund. cific agencies and staff within agencies. Milestones and The other barrier to traffic records improvement is that clear performance metrics are key to achieving the goals of most of the core databases that make up a state's traffic this (or any) strategic plan. Section 408 of the SAFETEA- records system exist to serve some other primary purpose. LU legislation outlines the requirements for a strategic plan The crash data are there specifically to support highway and in order for a state to become eligible for federal funds traffic safety decision-making, but other components of the available for traffic records improvement (see http://www. system such as roadway files, driver and vehicle files, court nhtsa.dot.gov/people/perform/pdfs/SAFETEA-LU.pdf). files and health-care files all serve a different primary mission. NHTSA has also published official rules for this grant The owners of these datasets are responsible for meeting their funding in the Federal Register (see http://www.nhtsa.dot. primary mission and the continued existence of these files gov/people/perform/pdfs/Federal_Register.pdf). depends on the funding and resources devoted to meeting their primary missions. In that context, raising the highway Ultimately, the organizational issues come down to inter- traffic safety "consciousness" of the leadership in each of the agency cooperation. If the state and local agencies can work custodial agencies is crucial. This is accomplished through the together to solve the data quality and access problems, they following initiatives: will find ways to do so more efficiently than if they operate in isolation. In particular, cooperation means that opportuni- · Establish a strong, two-tiered Traffic Records Coordinating ties for sharing resources and avoiding duplication are more Committee (TRCC). Ideally, the TRCC will have an execu- likely to be identified and implemented. Since traffic records tive level made up of key stakeholders, especially the lead- systems are costly to build and costly to operate, and since the ership (or IT directors) from the traffic records custodial resources available to devote to the systems are limited, it agencies. This executive group should then empower a makes sense to coordinate action among the various stake- working-level TRCC to oversee improvements to the traf- holders in order to meet as many needs as possible with the fic records system and to make recommendations to the available resources. custodial agencies on how best to meet the needs of collec- The TRCC, by virtue of its broad participation among tors, managers and users of traffic records data. A TRCC is representative stakeholders, gives the state a valuable resource required by law to maintain eligibility for some portions of in the improvement and promotion of traffic records for use federal transportation dollars. NHTSA has well-established by decision makers. By establishing a forum for coordination guidelines for what makes an effective TRCC. They can be and cooperation among collectors, managers and users, the found in Traffic Records: A Highway Safety Program Advi- TRCC can assist the state's decision makers in identifying the sory (see http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/perform/pdfs/ barriers to data improvement and suggesting ways to over- Advisory.pdf). Note that in their discussions of improving come them. The TRCC can be the focal point for needs assess- roadway inventory, traffic, and other non-crash safety ments, quality control monitoring, and planning. data, Council and Harkey (30) recommended a separate "data user/owner" committee within the state highway Data Improvement Strategies department because of the multiple owners and users of the inventory and traffic data. This group would serve as an In this sub-section, practical advice identifying data expert subcommittee to the TRCC. improvement strategies is listed. These items should not be · Conduct a Traffic Records Assessment in accordance with the viewed in isolation, but rather as a set of potential actions NHTSA Traffic Records Program Advisory. The Advisory that could be included in a Strategic Plan for Traffic Records and Assessment are powerful tools for a state to learn where Improvement. The selection of which of these actions to pur- its traffic records system is deficient. The Assessment, in sue, and in what sequence, is best made as part of an overall
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92 strategic planning process undertaken by the TRCC. of field data collection software in use for crash data col- Specific actions include: lection throughout the country. The advantages of the state-of-the-art systems in supporting data quality im- · Develop a formal Performance Assessment program for all provement are, by now, well-documented. A good field components of the Traffic Records System. This program data collection system will incorporate methods for should be overseen by the TRCC, in cooperation with the validation of data as it is entered by the law enforcement custodial agencies that would take primary responsibility personnel, thus helping to ensure that the information for implementation and regular reporting of performance meets pre-defined accuracy and completeness standards. measures. The program should include measures of time- Methods such as GPS, map-based, and pick-lists for street liness, accuracy, and completeness of the data, and these names can help to standardize location data collection for measures should be available to data system managers on crash (and other) data thus making it much more likely a continual basis to assist them in day-to-day monitoring that the events can be tied to specific locations defined in of the health of their data system. Summary, aggregate data the roadway database. Electronic data transfer from local should be available to the system managers and the TRCC agencies to the statewide crash database helps to ensure to aid in tracking improvements on some regular basis that the data are more timely as well. Some states have cho- (monthly, quarterly, and/or annually). Proposals for data sen to standardize on one software vendor's product, while quality improvement programs should be tied to the others have chosen to set standards for the quality of the Performance Assessment program by reference to the per- data that are forwarded to the state and thus accommodate formance measures that will be affected by the proposed the varying needs and resources of the local agencies. Both program, and the costs and benefits of the proposed im- methods have shown good results the most important provements should be weighed against other competing determinant of success is the quality of the software and the proposals to ensure that traffic records improvement training that the data collectors receive. dollars are spent in a cost-effective manner. · Promote data sharing and linkage among the key compo- · Improve crash data consistency through adoption of national nents of the traffic records system. Data sharing, including standards and guidelines. The national standards include "data-for-data partnerships," is a way to maximize the ef- ANSI D-16.1 and ANSI D-20. The Model Minimum Uni- ficiency of the data collection and data entry efforts of form Crash Criteria (MMUCC) guidelines define a recom- agencies involved with similar datasets (e.g., law enforce- mended minimum data set and data definitions for crash ment and courts, law enforcement and the state-wide reporting. When states adopt these standards and guide- crash data system, and courts and the driver history lines, they are able to use the pre-defined data elements database). Data linkage is the merger of elements from and, in many cases, improve the quality of their system two or more datasets for the purpose of expanding the documentation at very little cost. Training manuals, edit support for data analysis. Automating the links between checks, and data users guides can also be tied to the stan- datasets also offers the opportunity to improve data qual- dards and guidelines making it much easier for data col- ity by cross-checking information, and by automatically lectors, system managers, and data users to understand the filling in some portions of a data record from validated in- contents and limitations of each data file. formation already contained elsewhere. · Create or improve roadway, intersection, and interchange in- · Establish a data clearinghouse (data warehouse) to support ventory data. Data on the characteristics of the roadway sys- user access to system documentation, analytic tool and sup- tem including the locations, lengths, geometrics, traffic port, and linked datasets. Data users, especially high-level control features, and traffic volumes for specific roadway el- decision makers, cannot be expected to spend the time and ements can serve a vital role in safety management and effort required to obtain the data they need, research its safety planning. Most state highway agencies have a com- proper use, link it accurately to other data, and conduct puterized inventory of roadway segment characteristics, analyses in a valid manner without some form of assis- although many local agencies do not. Very few state or local tance. In recent years, the concept of a data warehouse that agencies have computerized inventories of the intersections provides necessary support for users has gained popular- or interchanges under their jurisdiction. The development ity. The concept involves creation of a central point where of such inventories would enhance safety planning. users can obtain the data they need, along with current There are currently no uniform criteria for roadway inven- documentation (user guides, data element definitions, and tory data, but FHWA is currently developing a set of criteria a statement of known limitations of the data) and support known as the Minimum Inventory of Roadway Elements from data experts. In an ideal setting, the data warehouse (MIRE). would also include a set of simple-to-use analytic tools · Promote the use of "high-end" automated field data collec- available to all authorized users. Some warehouses are also tion and electronic transfer systems. There is a wide variety able to provide analytic support to users, including help in