The Transportation Department and the University of Connecticut highlighted a joint effort Monday to modernize the state’s traffic accident reporting system to better inform policy-making.
At a state Capitol press conference, Eric Jackson, director of UConn’s Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center, said the goal of the project was to develop an electronic system for cops to quickly report data on traffic accidents from the field. The system will eliminate the need for paper reports and enables easy analysis of the information.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said policymakers can take a number of valuable lessons from looking at car crash data. The program will show where accidents occur frequently and which streets see the fewest crashes, he said.
“If you have a local road that’s having a lot of accidents you start to examine sightlines. Do we have appropriate sightlines? Are there other steps that can be taken to re-engineer the road?” he said.
Roads also can be engineered to reduce traffic and police policy might benefit from knowing which neighborhoods are frequently impacted by drunk drivers, he said. Malloy said it is worth knowing also that if a particular tree in a town is often the site of fatal accidents.
“It’s kind of a common sense approach to data-driven decision-making,” he said.
Kazem Kazerounian, interim dean of UConn’s School of Engineering, said the system will benefit the public by making the state more accountable for traffic safety issues.
Between 2007 and 2010, he said an average of 289 car crashes occurred in Connecticut every day. Kazerounian said an average of 275 people die on the state’s roads every year, and, according to the Center for Disease Control, costs related to auto accident deaths totaled more than $260 million in 2005.
“Think about that — each fatal accident, in addition to the pain and suffering to the loved ones and addition to the talent lost, it costs $1 million per accident. We can do better than that. Information is power,” he said.
Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the system will be one of the most up-to-date in the nation when it is completed. So far the department has directed $600,000 from the federal government to start the project and fund its first year. It is unclear how much the system will cost annually once it is up and running, but Redeker said he expects that the state will make the resources available.
“We fully believe we will support this in an ongoing fashion. It’s a terrific system and, frankly, saves us time and energy. And it’s a smart investment of technology,” he said.
Fully implementing the system will depend in part on municipalities updating their own accident reporting systems.
Currently, Jackson said only around 30 percent of the accident reports that arrive at the Transportation Department are filed electronically. He said those are the reports filed by state police.
“Everything else goes in via paper. So the DOT will receive paper crash reports . . . then I have students at the university who enter in kind of a ‘rough cut’ of the police report, then the DOT does quality control of the first database that we developed,” he said.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, the department receives more than 5,000 paper-based reports every month and there is a backlog of crash information. Malloy said the state is constructing the system, but its use will be a local decision for municipalities when they want to start reporting digitally.