Major Flaws in the U.S. Car Crash Reporting System

The lack of a nationwide standard and extensive officer discretion lead to inconsistent data when it comes to traffic crashes and fatalities.

July 29, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


GUNDAM_Ai / Shutterstock

On the heels of "an explosive Washington, D.C., study that showed police had failed to record as much as 30 percent of 911 calls about drivers striking pedestrians, bicyclists, and other road users, with crashes going unreported most often in Black and brown neighborhoods," reports Kea Wilson. Advocates in Washington, D.C., for example, "say that as much as 40 percent of crashes in mostly Black areas may go uncounted — so  District leaders may not even know where its most dangerous corridors are, much less have the specific data they need to fix them."

This underreporting of crashes, writes Wilson, "isn’t the only reason why U.S. communities don’t have a full picture of our national traffic-violence epidemic." Other important factors include: the lack of a federal crash-reporting standard; the flawed standard currently recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which omits important details such as "how far a walker who’s struck by a driver might be from the nearest unobstructed crosswalk" and vehicle height and weight; and the amount of discretion officers have in choosing what information to collect and report. 

Rohit T. Aggarwala, senior fellow at Cornell Tech and author of an op-ed encouraging Secretary Buttigieg to reform the Fatality Analysis and Reporting System (FARS), "hopes that, with the right reforms, much subjectivity can be stripped from crash reporting" so cities can have more accurate data when making Vision Zero plans.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021 in Streetsblog L.A.

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