Minnesota Safety Council: Better Data = Safer Drive

ST. PAUL, MN – The Minnesota Safety Council has joined the National Safety Council in the call for better data about crashes on our roadways. In a report released today, the National Safety Council (NSC) analyzes crash reports across all fifty states and the type of information collected. The report, "Undercounted is Underinvested: How incomplete crash reports impact efforts to save lives," states that information collection across the country is not uninform and is missing key elements necessary for improving traffic safety.

"We support the National Safety Council’s call for improvements in the crash reporting process through training, adding the collection of emerging critical data and investing in the reporting process and infrastructure," said Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council. "Without more complete and more accurate data, it will be difficult to make the policy changes needed to stem the rising tide of crashes, injuries and fatalities on our roads."

In the National Safety Council report, Minnesota is tied for third with Iowa for completeness of data collection (13 data elements of 23 recommended by NSC). Wisconsin is tied for first with Kansas (14 data elements of 23).

"Minnesota has a strong set of traffic safety laws, regulations and practices that show results in our high seatbelt use rates, relatively low fatality rates and in assessments such as this report," said Lisa Kons, traffic programs coordinator for the Minnesota Safety Council. "Minnesota law enforcement at all levels should be congratulated for their efforts to track traffic safety events."

So how can we improve? Aasen states there are four emerging areas that Minnesota needs to add to its data collection. Each of these is a known factor in crashes, injuries and deaths:

1) Minnesota needs to continue improving the analysis of impaired driving and the drugs and substances that are causing impairment. Impairment on the road is no longer simply about drunk driving. Marijuana, opioids, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, over-the-counter drugs and mixtures of all of the above are leading to impaired driving.
The next step forward: Make investments in drug recognition training, laboratory capabilities and education campaigns.

2) Fatigue. Minnesota needs to collect more data about fatigued driving. Fatigue is rapidly rising as a factor in crashes. Many people think of fatigue as a commercial driving issue. It is not. It is a general driving issue for us all.
The next step forward: Collecting more data on hours of sleep and hours awake from drivers involved in crashes.

3) Distraction. Electronic distraction is the current focus in traffic safety. Law enforcement in Minnesota faces the same issue as the rest of the country; how do we deal with distraction from all of the phone and infotainment systems in vehicles and how do we link use of these systems to crashes. We will need both policy and procedure changes to start defining this problem.
The next step forward: Improve enforceability of phone use laws while allowing post-crash forensic analysis of infotainment system use immediately preceding a crash.

4) Automation. Our vehicles are starting to drive themselves. How well equipped are we to detect the failings and shortcomings of these systems and their role in a crash? Again Minnesota is not alone in this data challenge but it is on our doorstep.
The next step forward: Incorporating training and capacity for automated systems assessment in crash reconstruction efforts.

"Every day, Minnesotans drive millions of miles on our roadways. Almost every mile is driven safely," Aasen said. "But over the past few years, we are seeing more Minnesotans injured and killed. We know speed, distraction, impairment and fatigue play a huge and growing role in this increase. Better data is the first step to making the changes needed to ensure a safer drive."

The Minnesota Safety Council is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preventing injuries on the road, at work, at home, and in the community. It was originally formed in 1928 to address traffic safety issues. For more information, see www.minnesotasafetycouncil.org.

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