Highway Safety:

Further Opportunities Exist to Improve Data on Crashes Involving Commercial Motor Vehicles

GAO-06-102: Published: Nov 18, 2005. Publicly Released: Nov 18, 2005.

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Large trucks make up 3 percent of the nation's registered vehicles, but they were involved in 11 percent of all fatal crashes in 2003. To reduce the fatality rate, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets national safety goals and works in partnership with states to reach them. Crash data collected by states and submitted to FMCSA is key to these efforts, and to be fully useful, this data must be complete, timely, accurate, and collected in a consistent manner. GAO addressed (1) what is known about the quality of commercial motor vehicle crash data, and what states are doing to improve it, and (2) the results of FMCSA's efforts to help states make improvements.

Overall, commercial motor vehicle crash data does not yet meet general data quality standards of completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and consistency. For example, FMCSA estimates that nearly one-third of commercial motor vehicle crashes that states are required to report to the federal government were not reported, and those that were reported were not always accurate, timely, or consistent. States are undertaking four types of activities to improve data quality, including analyzing existing data to identify problems and develop plans for addressing them, reducing backlogs of data that have not been entered into state-level databases, developing and implementing electronic data systems, and providing training. As a result of these efforts, states have recently improved both the timeliness and the number of reportable crashes submitted to FMCSA. FMCSA has two main efforts to support states in improving their reporting of commercial motor vehicle crash information--a commercial vehicle crash data improvement program and a data quality rating system--and both appear to be beneficial. Through the data improvement program, FMCSA has provided nearly $21 million in discretionary grants to 34 states from 2002 through 2005. These grants have ranged from $2,000 to $2 million and have helped states conduct a variety of data improvement activities. GAO did not find problems with FMCSA's oversight of the program, but we did note that FMCSA does not have formal guidelines for awarding grants to states. As state participation in the program increases, formal guidelines and systems would likely assist FMCSA in prioritizing states' requests and ensuring consistency in grant awards. FMCSA's second major effort, a tool for rating states' data quality, has proven to be an important tool for states to use in improving their crash data as well. These results are presented in a map that rates each state's data quality as "good," "fair," or "poor." According to both FMCSA and state officials, the map and the underlying rating system serve as an incentive for states to improve their crash data. While the map is useful, GAO identified problems in the methodology used for developing ratings. These problems may potentially lead to drawing erroneous conclusions about the extent of improvements that have been made, and discourage states from continuing to devote attention and resources to areas needing improvement.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FMCSA implemented GAO's first recommendation to establish specific guidelines for assessing state proposals for the Safety Date Improvement Program (SaDIP). Specifically, FMCSA added a new section to their grant application with specific information about how the agency intends to evaluate proposals and make awards. A review panel will now evaluate state SaDIP proposal based on 1) Goals and Objectives--the extent to which the proposal clearly articulates a safety data goal and identifies objectives that are time-limited, action-oriented, measurable, and achievable. (40% weight); 2) Feasibility and Effectiveness---the extent to which the applicant's approach is feasible and will likely result in an improvement to the state's safety data in terms of completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and consistency. This factor also includes identification of potential implementation barriers on the part of the applicant and the extent to which the project will contribute to overall national safety data quality based on accuracy and consistency (30%); 3) Cost Effectiveness--this involves a cost estimate that is commensurate with the volume of records to be improved and whether or not the project will result in continued improvement and/or sustain higher data quality for the state (30%). These specific guidelines will help FMCSA evaluate SaDIP grant applications.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FMCSA to establish specific guidelines for assessing state proposals for Safety Data Improvement Program grants in order to better assess and prioritize states' funding requests and provide uniformity in awarding funds.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO recommended that Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) improve the State Safety Data Quality map's usefulness as a tool for monitoring and measuring commercial motor vehicle crash data by developing a plan to assess the map's methodology and separating crash and inspection data in the overall data map. In March 2006, FMCSA developed an action plan to improve the existing State Safety Data Quality methodology. The plan includes enhancing existing measures, conducting new analysis to determine the feasibility of new measures, and evaluating current methodology and individual criteria. Further progress was made during a June 2006 Data Quality Retreat when retreat participants reached consensus on four new measures to be used in future State Safety Data Quality analysis. Further, FMCSA is currently working on creating a separate map for crash and inspection data. Finally, on its Analysis and Information (A&I) website, FMCSA has provided additional information about the limitations of the State Safety Data Quality Map and the underlying ratings.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FMCSA to increase the State Safety Data Quality map's usefulness as a tool for monitoring and measuring commercial motor vehicle crash data by ensuring that it adequately reflects the condition of the states' commercial motor vehicle crash data and continues to motivate states in their improvement efforts. Specifically, FMCSA should develop a plan for assessing and improving the data quality map's methodology. In addition, FMCSA should display an overall crash data rating separately from the inspection rating, and provide information on the limitations of the State Safety Data Quality map and the underlying ratings on FMCSA's Analysis and Information (A&I) Online Web site.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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