NHTSA conducts surveillance activities through its National Center for Statistics and Analysis, which received about $20 million in FY 1997. This center houses two major data systems, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the National Automotive Sampling System (NASS). FARS tracks all motor vehicle crashes on public roads that result in a fatality. Begun in 1975, it is used to monitor trends in traffic safety and evaluate the impact of motor vehicle safety standards. FARS relies on a designated person within each state who, under contract to NHTSA, extracts and codes 100 data elements on the crash, the vehicles, and the people involved. These elements are obtained from the analysis of multiple state information systems, including police accident reports, vital and death certificates, coroner or medical examiner reports, hospital records, and emergency medical service reports.
Surveillance of all types of traffic crashes, which involve both deaths and injuries, is the focus of the NASS. This system is made up of two separate surveillance systems, both of which are representative samples of traffic crashes. The oldest, the Crashworthiness Data System, formed in 1979, depends on thorough crash investigations conducted by 24 field research teams studying about 5,000 crashes annually. The research teams measure crash damage, interview crash victims, and review medical records to ascertain the nature and severity of injuries. Among the uses of this system are detailed data on the crash performance of passenger cars, the evaluation of safety systems and designs, and improved understanding of the relationship between the injuries and severity of the crash.
The second system, created in 1988, is the General Estimates System (GES). This system is a nationally representative probability sample of police-reported crashes. Eligibility for sampling depends on a police accident report having been filed; the crash having involved at least one motor vehicle; and the result being either property damage, injury, or death. GES samples about 50,000 police reports each year covering 400 police jurisdictions in 60 selected areas in the United States. NHTSA publishes an annual compilation of data on traffic-related injuries and deaths, including trend data, from FARS and GES (NHTSA, 1996).
Substantial improvements in motor vehicle safety have been achieved over the past 25 years (see Chapter 5). Although many factors have contributed to this success, including increased urbanization and improved highway design, NHTSA's activities have undoubtedly played a major contributing role (Graham, 1993). NHTSA has effectively led the motor vehicle safety field by promulgating science-based vehicle safety standards; supporting, evaluating and disseminating safety programs at the state and local levels; and forging research partnerships with universities.