One of the most dangerous places to find oneself in the United States is driving or walking on streets or highways. The staggering death toll averages approximately fifty thousand fatalities annually, and citizens would not be surprised to learn that highway accidents are one of the leading causes of death among young people and police officers. The ironic part of this American tragedy is that systematic vehicle traffic deaths are often preventable. Educators, researchers, engineers, and law enforcement personnel, working together, can reduce injuries and fatalities.
Research: Developing Countermeasures
Investigative research provides specific data related to the causes of vehicle and traffic-related injuries and fatalities. Professionals who develop and recommend prevention strategies and countermeasures carefully evaluate the data. The major investigative factors include location, age, sex, and mortality rates. Researchers gather the data, analyze results, and then suggest appropriate remedial responses. The data derived from these investigations provide accurate information for scientific evaluation and education.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is involved in considerable research to support their mission to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes. Their Research and Development (R&D) and National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA) are involved in extensive data collection to increase highway safety. The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) focuses on motor vehicle standards, traffic safety programs, and highway safety initiatives.
Identifying the Problem
Traffic accidents are rarely random or chance occurrences. Accidents result because of identifiable sequences of behavioral activities or, less often, as a result of mechanical or environmental events. The concept of the ”88-10-2 ratio” has been utilized to represent the quantitative involvement of (1) human failure, (2) mechanical failure, and (3) unusual circumstances. Drivers cause accidents, rarely the vehicle or road design. Statistics indicate that as much as 95% of motor vehicle accidents are driver related.
The primary cause of accidents is human error or inattention. Investigators apply the multiple cause concept and view results from a combination of closely interconnected factors. In other words, accidents result from a developing sequence of multiple events and should not simply be viewed in terms of the immediate emergency event, or the last factor. Causes and countermeasures can be identified from the data derived from three basic accident phases: (1) preevent, (2) event, and (3) postevent.
The Three “E’s” of Traffic Management
The three ”E’s” of traffic management are (1) education, (2) engineering, and (3) enforcement. Most accidents are preventable through the modification of human behaviors. The following strategies influence the prevention of motor vehicle accidents and fatalities: (1) education, (2) proactive police patrol, and (3) legal sanctions. In addition, better highway engineering would result in improved road design and intersection traffic control, while better auto engineering would create safer cars. All of the above-mentioned strategies require synchronization, cooperation, and shared responsibility among the partners and stakeholders.
The preferred mode of prevention is education, though high-risk drivers are the least receptive to this traffic management strategy. Law enforcement agencies offer a variety of public traffic safety programs taught by their officers through civic groups, schools, and community organizations around the country.
One of the best-known programs is the high school driver education elective offered by school districts. However, not all students participate in this excellent safety and lifesaving experience. High school driver education programs are particularly relevant to this high-risk student population. Police officers who participate in high school driver education programs provide a meaningful and important contribution to a lifesaving effort.
The field of traffic engineering addresses highway safety hazards through the careful planning of streets and highways. The primary focus of traffic engineers is on the movement of traffic; they consider the safest, most convenient, and most effective transportation routes for citizens and road design services. Traffic engineering is dependent on public safety managers and police officers to identify problematic intersections that create hazardous conditions. Accurate information allows engineers to allocate resources for road excavation and the appropriate designation of traffic control signals. Traffic studies and traffic investigations serve as the basis for addressing successful highway engineering solutions.
Traffic Accident Investigation
The necessary reliance on engineering, education, and enforcement programs requires excellent traffic accident data. Therefore, these requirements place a significant emphasis on thorough and accurate traffic accident investigation. The police traffic manager encourages the proper collection of traffic and accident investigation data for prevention measures and remedial countermeasures. Electronic scan sheets and computer software have improved the collection, collation, and dissemination of timely traffic accident data.
Computer technology can assist in traffic management and accident reconstruction, saving time and personnel resources and producing accurate information for accident reconstruction and courtroom testimony. The computer-aided drafting (CAD) programs assist in traffic reconstruction. There are numerous versions that assist in accident reconstruction. Computer software can analyze and perform measurement calculations from a hand-held laser. In addition, the software has the capacity to provide velocity calculations and three-dimensional accident reconstruction sketches.
An officer at the scene using CAD has the ability to accurately diagram the traffic accident and avoid double-checking steel tape measurements. Moreover, the laser range finder is extremely accurate and convenient and automatically downloads the measurement and vehicle location data. The data derived from accident investigation serve as the foundation for traffic management and selective enforcement programs.
Traffic Services Management Data
Traffic services management can identify the location of statistically higher numbers of traffic fatalities and injuries related to vehicle accidents. This form of traffic analysis focuses on the what, where, when, and why of traffic accidents. In addition, it provides a snapshot of the intersection and driver. Ultimately, the data can provide a long-range strategic picture and planning strategies and answer questions concerning future highway safety remedial actions. The immediate tactical use of the data is to analyze the systemic causes of accidents and prevent property damage, injuries, and fatalities.
This analysis of information assists patrol officers, who can then concentrate their efforts on estimated times and location of probable traffic violations. The intersection information is extrapolated from police records. Selective enforcement identifies (1) the type of accident, (2) location, (3) time, (4) driver error or other type of error, and (5) type of violation.
Traffic accident location files and spot or computerized maps, together with record data concerning the type of moving violations that have caused accidents, is incorporated in the assignment of officers and patrol allocation. The selective enforcement program assists in identifying similar violations at problematic intersections. Enforcement officers then cite violators for the type of driving violations that are causing multiple accidents.
Selective enforcement data do not make an absolute prediction but an assumption based on inferential statistics. The data may come from computer-based police records system. In addition, geographic information systems (GISs), more commonly referred to as crime mapping, serve as an excellent resource. Traffic mapping symbols are an excellent tool for visualizing the traffic accident problem at a particular intersection. Statistics alone seem rather abstract; however, the combination of a computer-illustrated intersection and related photographs graphically portray the need for remedial enforcement action.
In smaller departments, selective enforcement requires a manual study of accident records. The cumbersome process includes the use of an accident location file and wall spot map. Tabulated information allows traffic officers to project a possible traffic accident curve for the future. The target goal is to calculate how many accidents are expected to happen, when, and at what location.
Division of Motor Vehicles
State licensing authorities maintain a central file of all resident drivers. The Point System is an important part of traffic management; the service seeks to take high-risk drivers off the road. After conviction in a court of law, the operator’s driving record will reflect the entries. A driver may get points on his or her license for traffic violations. Subsequent violations and convictions may result in suspension or revocation of the driver’s license. While the Point System is an effective driver control system for many drivers, it is not perfect. Problem drivers continue to drive while on suspension or revocation, in spite of the severe penalties.
Present and Future Trends
In the future, traffic management will focus on improving traffic engineering and computer technology. Increasingly, computer and satellite communications specialists are making a valuable contribution to traffic management. Greater cooperation among law enforcement officers and technical experts will be necessary. Furthermore, the increased reliance on computer technology in traffic services and management will require additional funding and training for law enforcement officers.
The computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and global positioning system (GPS) will eventually be able to locate and cross-reference traffic locations by grid coordinates. Traffic control under the Advanced Transportation Management Systems (ATMS) will seek to avoid congestion and delays and detect traffic accidents. Finally, closed-circuit television (CCTV) will play an increasing role in regulating traffic and locating accidents. The goal will be real-time reporting of traffic problems and pinpointing exact locations of traffic accidents.
Traffic services represent a collaborative effort across many disciplines. While education, engineering, and law enforcement are important, there are many more factors at work. Creating safer roads, safer cars, and, most important, safer drivers will help prevent traffic-related fatalities. Traffic services and management will remain a vital part of these lifesaving efforts.
See also: Crime Analysis; Drunk Driving; Liability and High-Speed Chases; Police Pursuits; Technology and the Police.
- Clark, Warren E. 1982. Traffic management and collision investigation. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- Dix, Jay, Michael Graham, and Randy Hanz 2000. Investigation of road traffic fatalities: An atlas. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
- National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology. 2004. Tech beat: At the scene ofa crash. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.