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Section 3: Problem Identification and Community Assessment

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What Is Problem Identification?

Problem identification and community assessment is the discovery of where, when, how, and why crashes occur. Also of major importance is the identification of the causes of crashes and collisions.

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Purpose of Problem Identification

The purpose of problem identification and assessment is:

  • to understand the crash problem and causation factors
  • to develop effective countermeasures to reduce or eliminate the problem
  • to design evaluation mechanisms to measure changes in problem severity
  • to manage influences (for example, using statistical crash data to highlight a particular problem area in order to obtain the necessary support for instituting an effective countermeasure in a jurisdiction).
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General Problem Identification Procedure

Using the sources of information and the analytical processes described later in this section, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Traffic Operations Division - Traffic Safety Section (TRF-TS) systematically analyzes data to determine whether a proposed project is the best alternative among the available options. Conclusions must:

  • support the available data
  • be site specific, whether that site is a county, city, or roadway section.

TRF-TS typically follows the procedures below in problem identification and analysis. Explanations of the requirements involved in these steps follow. Typically TRF-TS:

  1. identifies evidence that a traffic safety problem exists.
  2. collects applicable data in the target jurisdiction.
  3. analyzes the data to determine what factors or characteristics are overrepresented.
  4. determines if the problem is of a magnitude that warrants action?
    • if yes, proceeds to the following steps.
    • if no, considers the possibility that the initial indication may have been random.
  5. investigates all possible corrective actions.
  6. determines the best course of action.
  7. initiates corrective action.
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Data Collection and Analysis

Once a perceived problem is identified, data must be collected and analyzed (Steps 2 and 3 of the previous procedure). This process involves the following steps.

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Step

Action

Notes:

1

Identifying data sources

See “ Data Sources” later in this section.

2

Collecting data

See “ Data Sources” later in this section.

3

Determining an analysis strategy (how best to determine if a problem exists.)

See “ Data Analysis and Interpretation” later in this section.

4

Analyzing data

See “ Data Analysis and Interpretation” later in this section.

5

Displaying and reporting analysis results

For example, a graph or chart may display the data over time to show that the problem is either increasing or decreasing in frequency.

6

Identifying high-incidence crash locations

Of all crash locations in a jurisdiction, are there any that appear more frequently than others?

7

Identifying overrepresented crash characteristics.

For example, youth with alcohol involvement. See “ Data Elements” later in this section.

8

Analyzing support problems. (Who has the information you need? Will they share it? Is the data reliable?)

Attempt to solve data access problems by enlisting the support of agencies or offices that collect or possess the information you need. See “ Data Sources” later in this section.



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Data Elements

Data elements fall into three general categories: people, vehicles, and roadway. These categories may be broken down into subgroups and assigned relevant characteristics, as shown in the following table.

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Data Category

Subgroups

Characteristics

People

drivers, occupants, pedestrians

age, sex, blood alcohol level, driver’s education experience and training

Vehicles

passenger cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, etc.

sedans, convertibles, anti-lock brakes

Roadway

interstate, primary, secondary

political subdivisions, light conditions, surface conditions



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Crash Specific Data

Crash specific data may include any of the following:

  • type and severity of crash (fatal, pedestrian, etc.)
  • location
  • roadway characteristics
  • violations
  • time of day
  • day of week and month
  • type of vehicle
  • direction of travel
  • driver’s age
  • driver’s gender
  • weather conditions
  • vehicle maneuver
  • occupant protection usage
  • alcohol or other drug involvement
  • emergency medical services (EMS) data
  • investigating agency.
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Data Sources

Data sources may include any of the following:

  • TxDOT Crash Records Information System (CRIS)
  • local police department
  • Department of State Health Services or regional or local health agencies
  • emergency medical service providers
  • evaluations
  • surveys
  • national or statewide studies (such as Fatality Analysis Reporting System [FARS])
  • local court system
  • TxDOT district traffic engineering and roadway analyses
  • other sources (interest groups, task forces, school districts, colleges, hospitals, universities, insurance companies, etc.)
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Data Analysis and Interpretation

Analysis means to divide a whole into its parts in order to discover the nature, function, and relationship of those parts.

Data subgroups should be reviewed to determine overrepresentation. Such overrepresented subgroups indicate highway safety problems. A good example of this would be the high percentage of teenage drivers involved in crashes versus the much lower percentage among all drivers.

Further analysis should focus on subgroup characteristics — for example, increased severity or any other factors available from the data.

Overrepresented factors can be determined by comparing the rate of crashes for a subgroup or characteristic within the jurisdiction to the same rate in a comparable or larger jurisdiction. The rate may be expressed either as a percentage or a ratio.

Percentage Example: If the percentage of adult vehicle occupants that do not use safety belts within a jurisdiction is greater than the statewide percentage, then that characteristic is overrepresented.

Ratio Example: Dividing nighttime (10 P.M. to 6 A.M.) crashes by the total number of crashes for the jurisdiction within a given timeframe produces a ratio, as follows:

Where:

  • F = fatality crashes
  • A = incapacitating injury crashes
  • B = non-incapacitating injury crashes
  • Night = 10 P.M. to 6 A.M.
  • If that ratio is higher than the statewide ratio, a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) problem may be indicated (since most nighttime crashes are DWI related).

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Some Key Questions in Problem Identification

Asking the following questions may help with data analysis, and ultimately problem identification.

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Question

Examples

Are high crash incidence locations identified?

specific road sections, highways, streets, and intersections

What appears to be the major crash causation?

alcohol, other drugs, speed, other traffic violation, weather, road condition

What characteristics are overrepresented or occur more frequently than would be expected in the crash picture?

number of crashes involving 16- to 19-year-olds versus other age groups or number of alcohol crashes occurring on a particular roadway segment as compared with other segments

Are there factors that increase crash severity which are or should be addressed?

non-use of occupant protection devices (safety belts, motorcycle helmets, etc.)



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Problem Analysis

The following table shows an array of information that may be applied in the analysis of a crash problem.

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Causal Factors:

Crash Characteristics:

Factors Affecting Severity:

  • violation
  • loss of control
  • weather
  • alcohol involvement
  • roadway design
  • time of day
  • day of week
  • age of driver
  • gender of driver
  • non-use of occupant protection
  • position in vehicle
  • roadway elements (marking, guardrail, shoulders, surface, etc.)


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Impediments to Effective Problem Identification

The following factors may impede effective problem identification:

  • data access restrictions
  • inability to link automated files
  • lack of location-specific data
  • poor data quality
  • reporting threshold fluctuations (variations among jurisdictions in the minimum damage or crash severity they routinely report)
  • insufficient data (property damage only, non-reportable crashes, near misses, bicycle crashes, etc.).

Planners should be alert to these possible impediments and make appropriate adjustments when they appear.

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Example Problem

Applying the general procedure outlined earlier in this section, an actual problem might be identified and analyzed as follows.

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Step

Action

Example Events

1

Indication that traffic safety problem may exist.

A vehicle crash description in a local newspaper reported that two unrestrained infants were severely injured in the incident.

2

Collection of applicable data in the target jurisdiction.

  1. The Traffic Safety Specialist (TSS) and a group of interested citizens conduct an observational survey of vehicles entering and departing a local shopping mall and find that only 63% of those transporting infant children were using child safety seats.
  2. A check with the local police department confirms that child passenger safety is not routinely enforced.

3

Data analysis reveals overrepresented factor.

Since the 63% usage rate falls well below the statewide average of 84%, an overrepresentation of non-usage has been identified. Thus the problem has been identified, but the reasons are not clear.

4

Determination that problem warrants action.

(same as above)

5

Investigation of all possible corrective actions.

Is the problem due to:

  • ignorance of the law?
  • the inability of the population to afford child safety seats?
  • willful misconduct?
  • lack of enforcement?

The answers will reveal the best course of action.

6

Determination of best course of action.

The best possible course of action may be multi-faceted, incorporating two or more of the following:

  • a strong public information and education campaign
  • the establishment of a child safety seat distribution program
  • an occupant protection STEP grant with the local enforcement agency
  • an occupant protection violators training course
  • training of the officers in occupant protection enforcement.

7

Initiation of corrective action.

(same as above)



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Traffic Safety Community Needs Assessment

A general traffic safety community needs assessment should be completed prior to the start of any new community-based project (such as driving while intoxicated [DWI], occupant protection [OP], or Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs [STEPs]) or any proposed safe communities traffic safety project.

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Purpose of Community Needs Assessment

A comprehensive assessment enhances crash-related data and provides additional information regarding community resources (those a community already has and those a community is missing) and community attitudes toward a project. The assessment also is used to identify gaps, duplication, and potential solutions or countermeasures. Information gained in a thorough assessment makes it possible to develop an action plan that best meets the needs of the community. The assessment may also identify a shortage of certain resources or technical support that may be available through a traffic safety grant with federal or state funding. In this regard, information gathered during the needs assessment will be helpful when developing a project proposal.

A community needs assessment can provide opportunities beyond problem identification. A good assessment may also be used to gain commitment for a project with sources of potential funding, the community itself, and with a sponsoring agency. Besides assessing current resources, the process may also provide building blocks for self sufficiency and can be useful in addressing task forces, community officials, and traffic safety committees.

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Baseline Data

Establishing baseline data is a fundamental part of community needs assessment and goal setting. Baseline data is defined as the set of data representing the most current 12 months (or a comparable period) of complete data available prior to the start of the first year of the project. For example, if the most recent data available for a first year project are through December 31, 2012, then the baseline year would be January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012 for a grant starting in October 2013. Potential subgrantees should use the most recent certified data available for establishing baseline data. Once the baseline is established, that figure will be used to compare subsequent years. Prior to the start of the grant, this data will be the baseline data for any subsequent year grants with the subgrantee.

If good information has been collected through recent grants, then that information could be used in the problem identification section of the proposal. However, the baseline data in the performance goals must be the data prior to the first year grant.

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STEP Projects

The baseline number is critical in establishing the causes and numbers of fatalities, injuries, and crashes and the amount of property damage in a community. The baseline number for each measure in a proposed Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) must be filled in. The baseline year must be entered and the baseline numbers for each measure to be covered by a STEP must also be entered. The surveys and citation and crash data must be from the site location (city, county, roadway section, etc.) that the STEP will target.

The process involves obtaining and analyzing historical motor vehicle traffic crash data relevant to the problem and proposed project to determine the who, what, when, where, how, and why of an existing problem. TxDOT can provide the latest crash data for a community. Other pertinent data, such as safety belt use, may be included with the crash data. The most recent certified local data available should be provided to justify the traffic safety problem. The source and date of the data and information should always be cited. Only data for citations other than STEP citations must be used to establish the baseline.

Documentation of Data. Some examples of verifiable, current, and applicable data sources include:

  • your agency’s crash data files
  • hospital and emergency room reports
  • state or local surveys or assessments (for example, Texas Transportation Institute [TTI] Safety Belt Survey for Fiscal Year 2012)
  • TxDOT Crash Records Information System (CRIS).
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What the Community Needs Assessment Should Cover

At the very least, a community needs assessment should be made in the areas of:

  • school district or school board educational programs
  • occupant protection and safety belt usage
  • alcohol and other drug impaired driving programs
  • enforcement activities (including traffic records)
  • public information and education
  • traffic engineering.

In each of these areas, the assessment should include:

  • crash data
  • traffic safety legislation and ordinances
  • engineering and environmental issues and policies
  • key community players
  • highway safety supporters
  • past and current projects and programs
  • networks organizations, agencies, and volunteers
  • resources available, including people, money, and contributions
  • youth survey
  • knowledge, skills, and attitudes of the community
  • cost benefit analysis
  • potential barriers, problems, or red flags
  • past and present successes
  • training needs.
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Are DWI Issues Involved?

If the project is related to driving while intoxicated (DWI) issues, (for example, a community comprehensive anti-DWI project), then a detailed DWI needs assessment will be required.

The DWI needs assessment helps determine the nature and structure of a particular jurisdiction’s impaired driving system. It involves an inventory of the various agencies or offices that are part of the system handling DWI offenders from pre-arrest through the judicial process to punishment, treatment, and rehabilitation. The assessment is lengthy and detailed, and usually requires two months or longer to complete.

The needs assessment should identify any weaknesses or inefficiencies within the system. A typical finding of DWI needs assessments is “lack of system coordination.”

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Identifying Areas of Need Related to DWI Issues

The table on the following page shows countermeasure target values for the various components of the DWI offender handling system. Areas that need improvement can be identified by comparing the results for each of the sections in the DWI Needs Assessment Form with the target values in the table.

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System Component

Measurement Method

Target Values

Enforcement

DWI arrests in jurisdiction

1% of population — or — 2% of licensed drivers

Prosecution

DWI arrests with conviction

90%

Adjudication

Average number of days from DWI arrest to case disposition

60 or less

Sanctions

Minimum jail time of 48 hours on 2nd or subsequent DWI

80% or more

Drivers License Suspensions

1st offender DWI — 90 days

80% or more

Refusal or 2nd — 1 year

80% or more

Fines & Fees for DWI Offenders

Percent of cost

100%

Screening and Referral

Recommendations accepted by the courts

80% or more

Public Information & Education (PI&E)

Public’s perception of DWI arrest probability exceeds 50%

60% or more by survey



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NHTSA Website

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website offers a wide variety of documents that contain information on organizations that have completed a Problem Identification and Community Needs Assessment. Visit the NHTSA website at http://www.nhtsa.gov/, and then enter “community assessment” in the search box.

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