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It’s Not Always Clear What Happened

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Imagine – a car approaching an intersection tries to avoid a large object in the road, swerves out of the way and hits a lamppost, causing serious damage. Then the car bounces back into the roadway and whereby another car, attempting to make a left turn, T-bones the first car causing even more damage. As the first law enforcement officer on the scene, it’s your job to fill out the crash report. What caused the crash? What is the most harmful event? Is the collision between the two cars a left turn crash or a right angle crash due to the angle of impact? As you can imagine, the answer is not always easy to determine.

Every year, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) collects approximately 300,000 crash reports from law enforcement agencies. Since the reports are filled out by thousands of different law enforcement officers from around the state, the content and of the reports are rarely consistent. Further obfuscating the matter is that on many issues like the aforementioned scenario, there lacks a clear cut way to notate exactly what happened. Without proper training, individual officers are left on their own to interpret how to classify crashes. As such, reports are submitted with incomplete or incorrect information, which can negatively impact the effectiveness of data-driven crash reduction efforts.

Crash record completion and accuracy is an issue among law enforcement agencies nationwide. To tackle this issue in New Jersey, we are training police around the state on proper crash record completion through workshops. These courses review the most common crash form errors for both passenger and commercial motor vehicle crashes and offer methods to improve the quality of data that many safety partners and other end users rely on. The course not only highlights commonly made mistakes, but also utilizes video to enhance the training with visual examples from real crashes to guide attendees through the accurate completion of the forms.

three part photo with top part a picture of law enforcement officers, middle an overhead schematic of an incident on a roadway featuring a fire truck and 2 cars, and the bottom a picture of the roadway with a town truck and firetruck blocking the road to the incident.

Photo Courtesy of Responder Safety

In January of 2017, the New Jersey Statewide Traffic Records Coordinating Committee (STRCC) released the new NJTR-1 Crash record form. Based on feedback from the training sessions and an internal review, several improvements were made including the additional of several data fields. New information is being captured, like extra fields documenting distracted driving as well as a more in-depth look at commercial vehicle ownership and licensing.

In August, the National Center for Rural Road Safety will be hosting a free, 1.5 hour webinar called “Collaborating with Law Enforcement to Reach Zero”. The webinar will provide an overview of the different methods that transportation agencies can work with law enforcement to assist with efforts to reach zero fatalities. The training is aimed at a broad safety audience including, but not limited to law enforcement, planners, engineers, first responders, elected officials, public health, tourism agencies, and safety culture experts. According to Joseph Weiss, a Transportation Safety Analyst who has been at the forefront of New Jersey’s efforts to streamline the states crash report system and a presenter in the webinar, “The more information and data we can capture pertaining to a motor vehicle crash, the more effective we can be in our data driven response to it.” This webinar will enable participants to help incorporate law enforcement into the planning process, as well as allowing collaboration opportunities for public awareness.

For more information, and to register, please visit the National Center for Rural Road Safety Website.


Are you interested in Tribal Transportation Safety? You can help… Want to be an innovator? Interested in Safety?