Crash Reports Lack Distracted, Drowsy, Drunk & Drugged Driver Data

A National Safety Council review of motor vehicle crash reports from across the United States found 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, 26 state reports lack fields to capture texting, 32 states lack fields to record hands-free cell phone use, and 32 lack fields to identify specific types of drug use if drugs are detected, including marijuana. Excluding these fields limits the ability to effectively address these problems.

States are also failing to capture teen driver restrictions (35 states), and the use of advanced driver assistance technologies (50 states), and of infotainment systems (47 states). The findings are summarized in the new NSC report, Undercounted is Underinvested: How incomplete crash reports impact efforts to save lives 

“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 marks a 6 percent increase over 2015 and a 14 percent 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 can be more effective.

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 by NSC. 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 capture 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, including moving toward filling out crash reports electronically, updating forms more frequently to capture emerging issues such as fatigue and driver use of new technologies, adopting an investigatory approach to crashes and using electronic data recorders to collect crash factors such as performance information on any advanced driver assistance system in the vehicle.