Transparency, independence and in depth with regard to safety oriented road accident investigation
2008-11-19T11:24:58Z (GMT) by
In the framework of work package 4 of the SafetyNet project, a European Commission supported research programme, the meaning of the concept of “independence”, its usefulness and applicability to road safety oriented accident investigation processes and their results was reflected upon. According to the project proposal, the work package was to draft good practice recommendations, applicable to all phases of data gathering and input, database management, data use and dissemination, with the aim of ensuring the quality of public European road accident data. It was to develop procedures for evaluating the “independence” of public European road accident databases and to draft recommendations for guaranteeing the “independence” of any future public European road accident database. During the first months of the project, the concept of independence was clearly defined. It applies to the investigation body. It has structural, financial and functional aspects. Some independent accident investigation bodies exist in aviation, maritime and rail transport sectors. For the investigation of road traffic accidents such independent bodies are rare. In the case of major road accidents, their investigation is usually conducted by multimodal accident investigation boards. In the case of more routine road accidents, there is no clear pattern in those countries, whose accident investigation practices were assessed. The status of the investigations and that of the persons conducting the investigations differs from one country to another. When it comes to actual investigation practices, the concept of independence was found to be insufficient or even inappropriate. Progressively it became obvious that the independence of the investigation body and that of the investigation process do not resolve the question of the quality of investigations nor that of the quality of any subsequent data. The quality of the investigation work relies certainly on the impartiality of the investigating body, permitted by its independence, but also on the qualifications and experience of the investigators, as well as the investigation methods used during the actual investigation processes. Data quality itself depends on what questions are to be answered and how adequate the available data is for answering. It is not the knowledge about independence of the investigating body, but the availability of information on all relevant aspects of data acquisition and management processes that allow its quality to be assessed. It is the concept of transparency that corresponds to these aspects of the accident investigation data production processes. Further consideration was given to the use of some key notions, such as “in-depth data” or “in-depth investigation”, which the road safety community generally takes for granted. Their relative fuzziness and their simultaneous use by professionals from different areas of expertise have caused misunderstandings in our discussions with experts who are not primarily oriented towards road safety. This has spurred an effort to clarify the vocabulary in use. This paper examines the work package 4 work with a slight sociological overtone. The work package 4 deliverables can be found at the European Road Safety Observatory web site at http://www.erso.eu/safetynet/content/wp_4_independent_accident_investigation.htm.