Being on the roads is something that most of us do every day, whether as a driver, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian. Statistics about road safety are used to inform road improvements, road safety laws and local initiatives so it’s important that they are accurate and of maximum value to users.
Today we released a series of letters about our review of road safety statistics produced by Transport Scotland, the Welsh Government, Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Department for Infrastructure Northern Ireland. We are very pleased to confirm that all four sets of statistics will continue to be badged as National Statistics. This means that they meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value. Although some of our findings and recommendations are specific to the statistics produced by individual teams, we also came across the following common themes.
Uses and Users of Road Safety Statistics
All the statistics include historic trends, so that users can see how the number of accidents has changed over time. Insightful commentary provides context for these changes – for example, when a new road safety law has come into effect. These features of the statistics allow police forces and local authorities to implement and monitor road safety initiatives in their local areas. They also help policymakers assess the progress made towards government targets.
All the statistics producers have strong relationships with police forces and policy colleagues, but the understanding of and engagement with users beyond these groups varied. We saw some great examples of user engagement resulting in improvements to the statistics. In other cases, we think that better user engagement would help to identify unknown and potential users. Although reaching these users can be challenging, it is vital in ensuring that the statistics can achieve their potential to serve the public good.
The Power of Collaboration
The data recording system historically used by police to record road accidents (called STATS19) is currently being reviewed. The review, led by the Department for Transport, will recommend changes and improvements to what information is collected and how it is recorded. To make sure that issues that concern Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are heard and acted on during this and any future review, we recommend that all four teams establish a stronger working partnership.
More engagement between the teams will also present the opportunity to learn from each other about how they produce and present statistics on the same topic. We saw lots of areas of good practice which, if shared, would benefit the other teams to learn from: for example, the thorough checking process at the Police Service of Northern Ireland to ensure that no collisions are missed; the user engagement project carried out by Transport Scotland last year; the way that Department for Infrastructure analyses and presents under-reporting of road accidents; or the recent development of an interactive dashboard by the Welsh Government.
Some police forces in the UK, including Police Scotland and about half the forces in England, have recently moved to a new data recording system – the Department for Transport Collision Recording and Sharing (CRASH) system. One of the main advantages of this new system is the improved accuracy of how severe an injury is – the police officer records the most severe injury, and this is automatically labelled either ‘slight’ or ‘serious’. This is different from the approach in police forces using other systems to collect STATS19 data, where officers use their own judgement to determine how severe an injury is. Statisticians themselves don’t always have control over the adoption of new collection approaches, but we encourage all producers to think about the advantages and disadvantages of their current systems to make sure that the data and methods used are the most appropriate and the best quality for the job.
It is important that before, during and after periods of change, producers of statistics keep their users well informed. This allows users to understand what impact any changes will have on how they use the statistics and provides the opportunity for users to contribute their views. Whether the change is the introduction of a new recording system, or the updating of the current system following the STATS19 review, we encourage all producers to proactively publish as much information as possible and to think about how they open up communication with their users.
The Future of Road Safety Statistics
Road safety policies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland aim to reduce the number of people killed on the roads, with each devolved government having set targets for 2020. New road safety strategies looking beyond 2020 will soon be developed, highlighting how important it is for producers to continue their strong relationships with policy colleagues. The progress towards the current targets varies across the nations and next year each set of statistics will report on the final data for 2020. These statistics will continue to be fundamental in monitoring success against current and future government policies – whether by those who are responsible for our safety, by advocates for road safety improvements, or by us as individuals who interact with the roads in our daily lives.