The problem: Virtually all transportation accidents are preceded by a chain of events or circumstancesany one of which might have prevented the accident if it had gone another way. In a large number of cases, operators are aware of these "close calls" or "near misses" and may have information that could prevent future accidents. However, most of our modal programs are focused on collecting data on mishaps only when they result in a reportable accident. This leaves unexposed the large majority of cases where we could develop useful data on accident precursors or on prevention strategies that have actually worked.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has had a near miss reporting system in place for several years, including confidentiality protections for those reporting. USCG is in the process of developing a similar near miss reporting system, but still is struggling with the issue of confidentiality protections. Other modes have an interest, but have not started development.
What we need: Each mode has a different operating environment and its own set of issues with the industry. But we need to approach the problem more comprehensively, to take better advantage of others' work and potential economies of scale.
First, we need to explore the transferability of near miss reporting from aviation and maritime modes to rail, transit, motor carriers, pipeline, and privately operated vehicles. We need to explore issues and options for data confidentiality, including a review of whether BTS' legislative protections could be extended to other DOT units (even including FAA). Then we need to explore implementation issues and options.
Benefits: Near miss reporting systems can provide a data stream which complements accident investigations, and which may provide key data that would prevent low probability-high consequence accidents in particular. They may also provide new information on what works to break the accident chain before an accident occurs. As a result, we would expect more focused prevention efforts, better prevention, and a better ability to mitigate accidents. A coordinated effort across DOT could also probably be implemented more cost effectively than separate efforts.