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Section 1What We'll Do to Improve Safety Data

Section 1What We'll Do to Improve Safety Data

A. Establishing a Lead Agency and Ensuring Intermodal Collaboration

What Our Stakeholders Said. Participants in three of the workshops recommended that the Department of Transportation "designate a lead agency" to coordinate efforts across all modes to improve data. Participants in the national conference reinforced this recommendation. Many organizations also expressed an interest in providing input and working to help improve data.

DOT Values:

"We are committed to excellence in transportation, and to that end, we will:

- Ensure that all our work at DOT focuses on improving safety and the quality of life for all users of our national transportation system
- Listen to, learn from, and collaborate with customers on how best to address their needs"

From the DOT Strategic Plan

What We'll Do. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) will be the lead agency for the Department of Transportation to improve safety data. This is a natural extension of BTS' mission to lead in developing high-quality data and information and to advance their effective use in transportation decision-making. BTS reports to the Secretary, and will coordinate its work with the DOT Safety Council as well as with data experts from each modal administration. There will also be opportunity for stakeholders to provide input in this process, as outlined in Section 2 of the plan.

To provide a forum to address intermodal issues within the department, the Deputy Secretary established the Committee on Transportation Statistics (CTSTAT). The Director of BTS chairs the CTSTAT, with members of the committee drawn from the senior leadership of the Department.

Benefits. BTS' role in coordination will provide a centralized point of contact at DOT for constituents to provide helpful suggestions and feedback, to stay abreast of the progress of the DOT Safety Data improvement project, and to facilitate sharing best practices across the department.

Timing. The DOT Safety Council has approved BTS' role, and the CTSTAT has already been established.

B. Developing an Intermodal Data Base

What Our Stakeholders Said. Many workshop participants encouraged the department to provide Internet access to a standardized, central data base so they could have easy access to multiple data sets. Workshop participants called for 'more information sharing,' 'ability to search multiple data bases,' 'compendium of niche sources,' 'creating a bridge to historical data,' and 'development of a data dictionary.' Concerns were also expressed over how definitions vary across modes and level of government.

What We'll Do. The Intermodal Transportation Data Base (ITDB) will provide the organizing system for combining and integrating safety data, including a comprehensive data element dictionary. Mandated by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), ITDB will provide a common repository for key transportation data. The system's general design will include transportation data from all DOT data systems, contextual data from others, linkages across data elements, web-based access, and online data documentation and descriptive statistical tools.

Benefits. The ITDB will provide "one-stop shopping" for transportation safety data as well as provide a more in-depth look at comparability across modal data sets.

Timing. BTS has already commenced work on the ITDB, and a prototype was demonstrated and discussed at the April 2000 Safety in Numbers Conference. CTSTAT will provide guidance for continued development of the ITDB, with Internet posting of a "beta" version planned for Fall 2000.

C. Developing Data Standards

What Our Stakeholders Said. Participants from all workshops stressed the importance of evaluating current transportation data and developing standards within the current systems. Participants called for "creating a set of standards with regard to terms, what to collect and analyze, and data storage and format." Discussion also addressed thresholdse.g., when does an incident become "significant;" when should an injury be recorded?

What We'll Do. BTS, with guidance from CTSTAT, will develop data-quality standards to guide the collection, documentation, presentation, and interpretation of transportation data within current data-collection systems. These standards are also mandated by TEA-21. Existing standards from other federal statistical agencies will be used as a starting point.

Benefit. Standards will provide benchmarks against which the quality of current systems and comparability among them can be assessed. From these assessments, a roadmap can be developed that identifies fruitful areas for change, leading to systems that provide higher quality data for policy decisions and transportation planning across all modes of transportation.

Timing. Data quality standards are in the early stage of development and are available for review on the BTS web site at http://www.bts.gov/products/guide_to_good_statistical_practice_in_the_transportation_field/.

D. Expanding Resources for Transportation Research

What Our Stakeholders Said. Participants mentioned the need to access anecdotal and qualitative transportation research. Comments included: "extracting useful information, organizing it, and analyzing it is a problem," " retrieval is a challenge," and "the data and information that exist are not available for system-wide use."

What We'll Do. The National Transportation Library (NTL) will provide research material beyond data. The NTL is an online library providing reference materials, publications, reports, journal articles, and an index to abstracts on transportation research. NTL exists now, but remains to be expanded, particularly to include non-federal materials.

Benefit. Expansion of the National Transportation Library will increase the dissemination of transportation research-related materials and resources.

Timing. NTL development will require a multi-year program to expand the collection to federal, state, and local documents and research; develop access to full-text documents from abstracts; and improve the cataloging of materials.

E. Conducting Focused Research Projects to Improve Data Systems

What Our Stakeholders Said. Throughout the workshops, participants drew attention to data quality. Both under-and over-reporting of accidents were mentioned, as well as lack of uniformity in completing reports, exclusion of reporting requirements for some types of transportation workers, and that all data are not reported. Participants commented that "there needs to be better information and it needs to be of a higher quality" and "there needs to be better data on results." Others indicated that "accuracy is a challenge because of budgetary problems and different interests," and that "it is difficult to get accurate, undiluted information on human error and performance."

Another related key issue mentioned was relevancy; participants wanted to ensure the right information was being collected and that data that was duplicative or no longer useful was not collected.

The Limitations of DOT Safety Data. Safety is the top priority of the Department of Transportation. During the last decade, DOT has reduced accident rates in every category of transportation. The tools used to achieve this success were broad educational campaigns (drunk driving, seatbelt use, truck no-zones), widespread implementation of new technology (better black boxes in aircraft, airbags, weather satellite reports), and national enforcement initiatives (hazardous spill reporting, zero-tolerance policies on drugs and alcohol, aggressive accident investigation and appropriate prosecution).

Diminishing gains indicate that these broad-brush approaches to safety are reaching their performance limits. Such strategies are analogous to nationwide inoculation and fluoridation programs used in public health, in that they are essential, but so general that better-focused efforts can reap major additional benefits. For DOT to achieve the next level of safety improvement, new tools are needed that focus very specifically on the causes and circumstances of accidents, in the same way that modern public health researchers have gone beyond national vaccination programs by sifting medical data to find risk factors. Success requires the analysis of high-quality accident data to identify patterns that can be addressed by new local legislation, technology, or other interventions.

What We'll Do. With the support of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Committee on Transportation Statistics, the Department will plan and conduct 10 research projects to focus on addressing specific shortcomings. These will be organized into four broad areas: