“We need to build a bigger picture of road collisions”

09.36 | 8 February 2024 | | 1 comment

A new report says greater sharing of collision data and medical information about crash victims could lead to a much better understanding of the causes and the costs – human and financial – of death and injury on the country’s roads.

Crash and casualty data is routinely collected by the police who attend most major incidents or are at least made aware of them. It is then published by the DfT through a system called STATS19.

However, the report – Data Linkage in Road Safety – authored by Seema Yalamanchili, a general surgeon and a clinical research fellow at the Imperial College London Institute of Global Health Innovation, says to get a more rounded picture of collisions and harm on the road network this should be better linked to other sources of data.

This includes the injury data collected in the national medical dataset, Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) – and that recorded by the ambulance service and other parties involved in the aftermath of road crashes.

Ultimately, all those working in the road safety arena – not least those involved in health provision, law enforcement, transport policy and vehicle design – would benefit from greater data co-ordination and cross-referencing, the report concludes.

Seema Yalamanchili, the report author, said: “As clinicians dealing with patients seriously injured following road collisions, we have made significant progress in how to effectively save lives, but there’s more that could be done.

“To do this we need a systematic understanding of how the particular circumstances of the collision impacts injury patterns. Studying this relationship not only allows us to optimise emergency care response but also supports the design of better preventative strategies to reduce major injury.”

The report also says a more co-ordinated approach would help answer some of the questions that are key to reducing road casualties and improving health outcomes, such as:

  • Are the right road casualties being triaged to the right centres?
  • Why do some demographic groups fare worse than others following similar collision circumstances?
  • What medical interventions can be introduced to improve clinical outcomes for particular injury types?

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Police investigations of road crashes concentrate on gathering evidence that could lead to a prosecution for causing an incident, rather than exploring the causes of why it happened.

“Medical data is focused on the condition of the patient on arrival into the health system in order to identify the right treatment rather than capturing the reasons for the nature and severity of their injuries.

“That’s why we need to build a bigger picture of road collisions and their effects from the currently fragmented data. We should not underestimate the difficulty in getting access to all the data and then joining it together by incident. But nor should we underestimate the possible road safety benefits of doing so.

“Linking these data-sets would be the sort of analytical activity that a Road Collision Investigation Branch would be expected to pursue in order to develop a well-informed view of the causes, consequences and costs of road-related casualties.”

The report has been welcomed by Road Safety GB. 

Will Cubbin, Road Safety GB’s director of research, said: “This report recognises an important issue in road safety; in order to create effective risk reduction programs, we must first diagnose the underlying issues accurately. 

“This requires not only good quality data, but data from a range of sources so that multiple components of each issue can be examined. There are inequalities in both casualty risk and injury outcomes that need to be understood before they can be addressed. 

“By joining the dots between datasets we can form more effective partnerships to solve these ongoing problems.”


 

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    The view that Police look at crashes with a view to finding out whether a prosecution can be mounted does not align with my experience. I always sought to understand primarily how a crash happened, with prosecutions being very much a secondary consideration. I did retire from the Police 30 years ago, but find it hard to credit that collision investigation at high levels has dramatically changed its focus despite the huge technical advances.


    David Daw, Bury St Edmunds
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