There are also concerns around the issue of data comparability with previous years, essential for meaningful trend analysis. Another important innovation in CRASH is greatly improved recording of the nature of injuries suffered by victims. However, this desirable enhancement may result in an unintended consequence: significant deviation between the number of casualties classified as “Serious” by forces which use CRASH, compared both to preceding years and to forces which do not. DfT have indicated that guidance on managing this discrepancy will be provided, but this subtlety may be lost on non-expert observers.
Why does all this matter? Any road safety professional reading this already knows the answer. The profession relies on intelligence from this data to make informed judgements on optimal ways of allocating scarce resources to casualty reduction, and to evaluate progress made by interventions already implemented. Without it we become less well informed and more out of date, and crucially less able to keep decision makers and the media apprised with what is really going on out there on our roads. The consequence is likely to be gradual erosion in our professional efficacy when it comes to saving lives.
So, what can be done? There is now no way to bring forward the release of data this year. However, we at RSA will be reaching out to colleagues across the profession to offer what support we can. We will strive to obtain data as quickly as possible, and update MAST Online as soon as feasible after the publication of Reported Road Casualties Great Britain on 28 September. We stand ready to provide expert support to practitioners who may be struggling to implement new or unfamiliar processes. We will add our voice to others in the road safety community who may express concern about these issues.
It’s tempting to think that these are merely statistics about tragedies past; that given all the other challenges which abound for public services at present, it doesn’t really matter all that much. But it is a mistake to underestimate the power of data: it becomes extremely difficult to engage with problems effectively if you don’t know how big they are or where they lurk. Road safety is a major public health issue, and we ignore it at our peril.
Bruce Walton is the Technical and Analysis Director of Road Safety Analysis, a not-for-profit company which provides the award-winning road safety data tool MAST Online. He has previously worked in both police and local authority road safety data roles, and was Project Manager of the DfT funded MAST Project. He is a member of DfT’s Standing Committee on Road Accident Statistics.