Skimpy Crash Reports Hindering Prevention Efforts

North America News - May 2017

A National Safety Council review of motor vehicle crash reports from across the U.S. concluded that no state fully captures critical data needed to address and understand the rise in roadway fatalities.

Crash reports from all 50 states lack fields or codes for law enforcement to record the level of driver fatigue at the time of a crash, according to the National Safety Council. What’s more, 26 state report forms lack fields to indicate the incidence of texting, and 32 states lack fields to record hands-free cell phone use. Additionally, 32 states lack fields to identify specific types of drug use, including marijuana, when drugs are detected.

The exclusion of these fields limits the ability to effectively address these problems, the National Safety Council said in a released statement about the review results.

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

The review findings are summarized in the new National Safety Council report, Undercounted is Underinvested: How incomplete crash reports impact efforts to save lives, released during Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

“The road to zero deaths is paved with potholes,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Someone is seriously injured on our roads every 8 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 National Safety Council indicate as many as 40,000 people died in car crashes in 2016. That represents 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, according to the council.

The National Safety Council identified 23 specific crash factors that should be captured on crash reports. While no state is capturing data for all 23 fields, Kansas and Wisconsin lead the nation by including fields and codes on reports for 14 of the factors identified as critical. 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 indicate alcohol impairment at low levels, even though fatal crashes involving drivers with low 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.

The National Safety Council is calling on the traffic safety community to take several actions to ensure better data collection. These recommendations include filling out crash reports electronically, updating forms more frequently to record factors such as fatigue and driver use of new technologies, adopting an investigatory approach to crashes, and using electronic data recorders to collect data such as performance information on any advanced driver assistance system in the vehicle.

A full list of recommendations can be found at


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