The development of a multidisciplinary system to understand causal factors in road crashes

The persistent lack of crash causation data to help inform and monitor road and vehicle safety policy is a major obstacle. Data are needed to assess the performance of road and vehicle safety stakeholders and is needed to support the development of further actions. A recent analysis conducted by the European Transport Safety Council identified that there was no single system in place that could meet all of the needs and that there were major gaps including in-depth crash causation information. This paper describes the process of developing a data collection and analysis system designed to fill these gaps. A project team with members from 7 countries was set up to devise appropriate variable lists to collect crash causation information under the following topic levels: accident, road environment, vehicle, and road user, using two quite different sets of resources: retrospective detailed police reports (n=1300) and prospective, independent, on-scene accident research investigations (n=1000). Data categorisation and human factors analysis methods based on Cognitive Reliability and Error Analysis Method (Hollnagel, 1998) were developed to enable the causal factors to be recorded, linked and understood. A harmonised, prospective “on-scene” method for recording the root causes and critical events of road crashes was developed. Where appropriate, this includes interviewing road users in collaboration with more routine accident investigation techniques. The typical level of detail recorded is a minimum of 150 variables for each accident. The project will enable multidisciplinary information on the circumstances of crashes to be interpreted to provide information on the causal factors. This has major applications in the areas of active safety systems, infrastructure and road safety, as well as for tailoring behavioural interventions. There is no direct model available internationally that uses such a systems based approach.