UK Statistics Authority Blasts Bogus Speed Camera Data

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An independent statistics watchdog agency that reports directly to the UK parliament issued a report yesterday criticizing a key element of the government’s road casualty figures. The UK Statistics Authority praised the general credibility of numbers generated by the Department for Transport (DfT), but the agency threatened to withhold the designation of “national statistics” from DfT reports if the department failed by November to reform the system of serious injury data collection known as STATS19. “The major unmet user need is for statistical information about road casualties that reflect the well-documented fact that the STATS19 system under-records the numbers of those injured in road accidents and the severity of injuries,” the Statistics Authority report explained.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) documented the problem in a 2006 report ( view study). While government statements lauded the benefits of speed cameras based on a claimed road injury rate that had fallen from 85.9 per 100,000 in 1996 (before cameras) to 59.4 in 2004 (after cameras), hospital admission records showed that the road injury rate actually increased slightly from 90.0 in 1996 to 91.1 in 2004. The BMJ attributed the discrepancy to the police undercounting the number of injury accidents that take place. The House of Commons Transport Committee earlier this month insisted that something be done to force DfT to produce more reliable reports.

“We were disappointed that although the government’s response acknowledged that there might be a problem, they did not propose any steps that we thought would deal with it,” Transport Committee Chairman Louise Ellman said. “I am thinking particularly of the discrepancies between some of the reporting of serious accidents and data received by hospitals. We want the government to do more on that issue, as we are not satisfied that the information that we are getting is accurate.”

The Statistics Authority laid mandatory changes that it believes will address the core problem. DfT must publish estimates of uncounted injury accidents so that readers of official publications will be informed of the scale of the undercounting problem. The department must also develop a plan to remedy the undercounting and more accurately label data and their sources. Because STATS19 data collection is currently overseen by a board comprised exclusively of government and police officials, the authority recommended that “broader membership of the Standing Committee on Road Accident Statistics might make user input more effective.”

A copy of the Statistics Authority report is available in an 80k PDF file at the source link below.

Road Casualty Statistics (UK Statistics Authority, 7/27/2009)

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  • Mullholland Mullholland on Jul 28, 2009

    I agree that determining the causes of accidents is impossible if the data as reported by the local police is inaccurate or incomplete. Last year I served on a jury that considered evidence supplied by a state-wide, state-run system that compiled, categorized and tracked accident data as reported by local police. The data reported for this specific accident was listed on the report as a minor rear-end collision. The actual facts of the case were that there was a rear-end collision that set off a chain reaction of impacts on cars waiting at a stop light. The net result was that one car was pushed across a double double yellow line median and into an oncoming vehicle accelerating away from the stop light coming from the other direction. This head on collision left a man permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

  • Gardiner Westbound Gardiner Westbound on Jul 28, 2009

    Similarly, the role of impaired and drunk drivers in traffic mishaps is greatly exaggerated by lobbyists, police, insurance and courts that profit from the drunk driving industry. Every traffic accident investigation report form includes a check box to indicate if drinking alcohol was involved in the accident. A “yes” gets trotted out when the industry wants to make a point or is looking for funding. The result is the often reported astonishing statistic drinking alcohol is involved in 50-percent of traffic accidents and fatalities. But “involved” is not the same as “causing”. One death or injury is too many, but inventing bogeymen does not address the real issues.

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