Building the European Road Safety Observatory. SafetyNet. Deliverable D4.2 Database transparency
2009-03-25T13:59:04Z (GMT) by
Road transport and all road transport related industries are clearly very important to European economy and societies. In terms of impact to European employment for instance, road transport is probably the most important transport sector. On the other hand, the relatively poor road safety – accidents, those killed and injured, material damage and other socio-economic costs – constitutes a major socio-economic problem. While road safety has recently emerged as an issue on all political decisionmaking levels, it was for a long time neglected compared to the issue of safety in the public transport modes, such as rail, air and maritime. This delay and the requirement of independence for accident investigating entities in the public transport modes result from the characteristics of different transport modes. Independence of an investigation body is to be understood as a means of assuring its impartiality – and that of the investigations it conducts. However, the independence of the investigation body and processes do not resolve the question of the quality of investigations. The quality of the investigation work relies certainly on the impartiality of the investigating body and processes, but also on the qualifications and experience of the investigators, as well as the investigation methods they use. It is not independence, but transparency that best describes these aspects of accident investigation. We shall define transparency as the availability of such relevant information on the accident investigation, which allow its quality to be assessed. In this deliverable, we have applied the concept of transparency only to databases, but it does apply to all accident investigation results: data, case studies or accident reports and any other subsequent data. Investigation bodies frequently cooperate with similar bodies from other countries or with other stakeholders (manufacturers, operators, regulators, consumers etc.), for specific accident investigations, and such interrelations strengthen their impartiality. In quite a similar manner, transparency can be further facilitated by the use of international methods and standards. The process of building a European road safety community through Commission supported research programmes is important in creating interrelations between research institutes and in creating progressively a body of common European accident investigation methods, standards, data and knowledge. The reviewed databases can roughly be divided in two categories. There are the police collected data that, in spite of their drawbacks, have the advantage of being national. The percentage of under-reporting and under-recording can be quite consequent, but this is rather irrelevant when national statistics are used for continued trend monitoring for instance. On the other hand there are the research oriented databases, whose uses are specific and depend on the research objectives. In some cases such databases might result for instance from legal obligations set for insurers, and might even contain police or other extensive data from certain areas and for longer periods. Other databases have been designed for a one-off use. Database transparency Project co-financed by the European Commission, Directorate-General Transport and Energy sn_inrets_wp4_d4.2_final_03/02/2006 Page 5 All the databases reviewed in this deliverable are, according to our evaluation, transparent. In other terms, there is sufficient information available on all the relevant aspects of these databases for assessing their actual quality. Making quality evaluations was not an objective of this work package and we have not proceeded to such quality evaluations. The principal reason for this is the fact that databases cannot be evaluated against a single scale. They have been designed for answering specific questions and should be judged on the basis of how well they reach that particular objective. The establishment of criteria for evaluating the transparency of accident investigation data (databases in this deliverable) was in itself a challenging task. Nevertheless we felt it had to be completed by some considerations on the use of accident investigation data and the limits that should be set to transparency. The only necessary limit that should be set to the transparency of accident investigation data is the right to privacy. Individual, identifiable accident level data should not be made publicly available – unless such data is necessary for understanding the circumstances and the sequence of events in case of major accidents (like the public transport accidents frequently are). There is another limitation to the transparency of accident investigation data, which results from the nature of that data. The investigation data is not just “observed” but is “constructed” according to specific, well-defined methodological choices. The process of data gathering, which begins with the choice of some particular pieces of information amongst a large number of details about an accident and ends with synthesized data, is a rather complex process and calls for specific qualifications and experience. The same is of course true –unfortunately perhaps – for appreciating the investigation results and participating to any debates about their scientific quality. While this limitation is real and has to be accepted, there is no need – quite the contrary – to conceal information from the public. Transport safety in all transport modes is an issue of public interest and adequate1 safety information, including accident investigation data, has to be publicly available. Sometimes public will misinterprete some of the available data, which will need to be dealt with. In any case, this would be a far lesser evil than having to constantly reassure the public that important safety related information is not being concealed.