Volpe Center Highlights
Safety in Numbers (BTS)
Helping to Improve Transportation Safety with Data
Reliable, accurate, timely data is a critical component of safety improvement efforts. Safety data analysis enables researchers to identify and anticipate where safety problems may arise. DOT's data programs must meet the needs of researchers, decision makers, and the interested public; the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) is working to provide DOT with a level of data quality sufficient to identify, quantify, and minimize the risk factors in U.S. travel. This level of quality is essential to fact-based management of transportation safety programs. But just as important is making transportation data accessible and understandable. The Volpe Center supports two major projects that will help the BTS achieve its goal of improving data quality and dissemination across modes: the Safety Data Action Plan (SDAP) and the Intermodal Transportation Data Base (ITDB).
Developing Data Standards and Expanding Research: the SDAP
DOT has a large number of safety databases; however, a preliminary BTS review revealed data gaps and quality issues. So in 1999 and 2000, BTS sponsored a series of workshops and a conference to identify a body of common problems across DOT safety data. The result, the Safety Data Action Plan, recommended ten cross-modal projects to address safety data issues. Since May 2001, the Center has been assisting the BTS in developing plans, processes, procedures, training, and systems that will enable BTS to fully implement the SDAP. Specifically, the Volpe team, led by Project Manager Ann DiMare of the Aviation Safety Division, has supported the Office of Statistical Quality by participating in working groups that are developing implementation plans for the projects, and collecting background/baseline information for each of the working groups. Every group consists of a representative from each modal agency, BTS, the Volpe Center, and a contractor such as the National Safety Council or Johns Hopkins University.
Transportation fatalities are the third leading cause of premature death in the U.S. (behind heart disease and cancer). To help prevent injuries and deaths, BTS is working to improve DOT's practices for collecting, analyzing, and applying safety data. BTS supplements the data collection programs of other agencies and serves as the lead agency in developing and coordinating intermodal transportation statistics. The Volpe Center is playing an important role in two major BTS programs that will help improve safety across all modes.
The Volpe SDAP team typifies the Center's cross-modal, multidisciplinary approach. The team provides expertise in engineering, operations research, all transportation modes, and legal issues, and combines institutional memory with knowledge of current trends and technologies. In all, Volpe team members have researched, written, and submitted nine reports. Six examples are discussed here. Mr. Joseph Koziol of the Technology Applications and Deployment Division wrote a background report on research projects in technology for data collection by DOT modal agencies. It lists current practices for data collection across modes, and surveys ongoing research projects on the use of event recorders and new technologies as means for improving the data collection process. The document was used as resource material by the working group for Project 9, which explores options for using technology in data collection.
Ms. Judy Schwenk of the Service Assessment Division submitted background materials for two projects assigned to her working group. The first is a meta-database of studies related to research in accident precursors in transportation modes, which supports Project 6. A report on voluntary safety reporting systems in transportation and other industries supports a project to expand the collection of near-miss data from the FAA to all other modes (Project 7).
|Developing Data Standards|
Standardizing items such as terms, thresholds, and accident precursors is critical to developing usable data that is consistent across modes. This is particularly important when data are made available to the public.
Mr. Larry Berk, Aviation Safety Division, delivered a comprehensive report in support of the working group responsible for Project 3, Develop Common Denominators for Safety Measures. His report describes, across DOT modal agencies, details of survey and sampling methods used for published denominators (e.g., annual million vehicle-miles traveled). The background work required a thorough review and understanding of relevant regulations, survey methods, and the mathematics. This report was particularly challenging because the working group required thorough yet concise explanations of the mathematics behind sample designs, computing denominators, and validating published statistics. Mr. Berk also wrote reports for Projects 2 and 5.
Other Volpe team members that made significant contributions include Dr. James Hallock, Chief of the Aviation Safety Division, Dr. Alex Blumensteil and Mr. John Sigona of the Aviation Safety Division, and Mr. Jerry Powers of the Infrastructure Protection and Operations Division.
All draft implementation plans are complete; Volpe work will continue through 2001 as plans are finalized. In 2002, SDAP projects will be prioritized for implementation.
Making Data Available: The Intermodal Transportation Data Base
BTS is developing a Web-based, intermodal transportation database (ITDB), a repository for all relevant statistical data that will be available for government and public use. The ITDB, currently under development, already provides a one-stop gateway to a broad collection of relevant transportation information that has been collected by various agencies within DOT as well as other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The goal is to include all the major data sets within DOT, as well as a variety of demographic, economic, and social data, to enable wide-ranging analyses.
The ITDB Mapping Center provides applications that may be used to geographically analyze the data in the ITDB. For example, fatal and non-fatal grade crossing accidents can be mapped for any time period from 1995 through 1999. From the map, detailed accidents reports can be viewed, and users may aggregate and map the number of accidents by state or county. This map shows fatal grade crossing accidents from 1/1/98 to 12/31/99.
Since May 2001, the Volpe Center has been supporting the BTS Office of Information Technology in the ITDB effort. Volpe's role includes developing work plans, participating in working groups, and compiling and analyzing information. In particular, BTS has asked the Volpe Center to develop a meta-data repository tool for the ITDB that will enable users to find, manage, and use the component databases. The ITDB is expected to evolve and expand significantly over the next few years to include 100 or more databases; the meta-data repository tool will be an important aid for users in locating databases of interest. A System Requirements Document for the meta-data repository tool is scheduled for delivery to BTS in January 2002. Mr. John Sigona of the Aviation Safety Division leads the Volpe team supporting the meta-data repository effort; he receives significant support from Dr. Hallock and Ms. DiMare. Also providing support are Jan Popiel, Bob Doutch, Jim Parinella, and Bill Pelletier of Computer Sciences Corporation, a Volpe contractor.
The Ten SDAP Research Projects
Volpe was chosen to assist in planning the implementation of these projects because of the Center's multimodal expertise, broad experience, and collaborative culture. The Safety Data Action Plan projects are organized in four broad categories.
Improving the quality, comparability, and timeliness of existing data
Collecting better data on accident circumstances, precursors, and leading indicators
Expanding the use of technology in data capture
Improving analytical capability