Understanding crash data

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking for ways to make crash data accessible and understandable to all types of users.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been collecting crash data since the early 1970s as part of its mission to reduce motor vehicle crashes, injuries, and deaths on our Nation’s highways.

NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA) collects, processes and maintains over a dozen crash datasets and tools used by federal and state agencies, universities, interest groups, industry, the news media and the public and is dedicated to providing easy public access to its data for multiple users and uses.   

NCSA has discovered that many of those interested in its data are having trouble getting the information they need from the NCSA Tools, Publications, and Data website, which houses NHTSA crash data systems and products.  Users range from experienced researchers conducting complex analyses to those with no previous experience looking for quick answers. In fact, NCSA is concerned that staff repeatedly answer the same data requests and that unsophisticated users may misunderstand and misuse crash data to make claims that the data cannot support.

To remedy this problem, NHTSA is looking for “creative, intuitive, and user-friendly approaches” to presenting crash data and educating the public on its use.  In a recent request for information, NHTSA is called on organizations that can develop online instructional material for explaining complex data to design a set of learning modules and website enhancements to meet the diverse data needs of the agency’s various users.

NHTSA’s crash data needs will soon become even more complex as autonomous vehicles take to the roads. According to a Feb. 4 report in the LA Times, more AV crash data would help federal and state agencies, law enforcement, safety advocates and the public make better decisions about driverless vehicles, but sharing that data is voluntary, with more than a dozen companies contributing limited data to a NHTSA web page.

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