NSC says motor vehicle crash data incomplete

April 25, 2017
State law enforcement crash reports don’t fully capture drowsy, drunk, drugged, and distracted driving occurrences.

A review by the National Safety Council (NSC) of motor vehicle crash reports from across the U.S. finds that no state “fully captures” critical data regarding incidences involving drunk and/or drugged drivers, distracted driving, and fatigued driving, among others.

The findings are summarized in a new NSC report entitled: Undercounted is Underinvested: How incomplete crash reports impact efforts to save lives.

The group said crash reports it investigated from all 50 states lack fields or codes for law enforcement to record the level of driver fatigue at the time of a crash, while 26 state don’t capture texting while driving occurrences, another 32 states lack fields to record hands-free cell phone use, and 32 lack fields to identify specific types of drug use if drugs are detected, including marijuana.

States are also failing to capture teen driver restrictions (35 states), and the use of advanced driver assistance technologies (50 states), and of infotainment systems (47 states).

“The road to zero deaths is paved with potholes,” noted Deborah Hersman, NSC’s president and CEO. “Someone is seriously injured on our roads every eight seconds seconds; someone is killed every 15 minutes. In too many cases, we are gathering the ‘what’ but not the ‘why’ and better data will enable us to make better decisions.”

Preliminary estimates from the NSC indicate as many as 40,000 people died in car crashes in 2016. That marks a 6% increase over 2015 and a 14% increase over 2014 – the most dramatic two-year escalation since 1964. Without a clear understanding of the scope of the problem, regulations, laws and policies cannot be more effective.

The NSC identified 23 specific crash factors that should be captured on crash reports. While no state is capturing data for all 23 fields, the group said Kansas and Wisconsin lead the nation by including fields and codes on reports for 14 of the factors NSC identifies as “critical.”

By contrast, Maryland, Kentucky and Nebraska each are capturing just five of the 23 factors.

Six states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, New York and Virginia – do not provide fields or codes for police to capture alcohol impairment at low levels, even though fatal crashes involving drivers with low blood alcohol content or BACs are not uncommon.

Of the eight states that have decriminalized recreational marijuana use, only four states – Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington – include fields and codes to record positive marijuana results from drug tests.

NSC is making several recommendations to correct those issues, which can be found at Those recommendations include:

  • Filling out crash reports electronically
  • Updating forms more frequently to capture emerging issues such as fatigue and the use of new technologies by drivers
  • Adopting an “investigatory approach” to motor vehicles crashes
  • Using electronic data recorders to collect crash factors such as performance information on any advanced driver assistance system in the vehicle
About the Author

Fleet Owner Staff

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Kevin Jones, Editorial Director, Commercial Vehicle Group

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