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Section 3: Problem Identification and Community Assessment

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A description of the data sources and processes used by the State to identify its highway safety problems is required in the Highway Safety Plan (HSP). The State is also required to identify the participants involved (committees, stakeholders, constituent groups, etc.). The information and data sources utilized in these processes must be listed.

This section describes the procedures and the data analysis process used by TxDOT Traffic Safety Division’s Behavioral Traffic Safety Section (TRF-BTS) to identify state and local problems for the annual HSP.

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What is Problem Identification?

Problem Identification and community assessment is the discovery of where, when, how, and why motor vehicle 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:

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  • Understand the crash problem and causation factors.
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  • Develop effective countermeasures to reduce or eliminate the problem.
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  • Design evaluation mechanisms to measure changes in problem severity.
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  • 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, TRF-BTS systematically analyzes data to determine whether a proposed project is the best alternative among the available options. Conclusions must:

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

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  1. Identifies evidence that a traffic safety problem exists.
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  3. Collects applicable data in the target jurisdiction.
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  5. Analyzes the data to determine what factors or characteristics are overrepresented.
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  7. Determines if the problem “is of a magnitude that warrants action?”
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  9. Investigates all possible corrective actions.
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  11. Determines the best course of action.
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  13. 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 steps listed in the table below.

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Identifying data sources

See “Data Sources” later in this section.


Collecting data

See “Data Sources” later in this section.


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

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


Analyzing data

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


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.


Identifying high-incidence crash locations

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


Identifying overrepresented crash characteristics

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


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




drivers, occupants, pedestrians

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


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

sedans, convertibles, anti-lock brakes


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:

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Data Sources

Data sources may include any of the following:

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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 over-representation. Such over-represented 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.

Over-represented 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 over-represented.

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


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  • F = fatality crashes.
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  • A = incapacitating injury crashes.
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  • B = non-incapacitating injury crashes.
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  • Night = 10 P.M. to 6 A.M.
  • If the 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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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, traffic violation, weather, road condition

What characteristics are over-represented 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 compared to 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:

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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Example Events


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.


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.


Data analysis reveals overrepresented factor

Since the 63% usage rate falls well below the statewide average of 88.6%, an over-representation of non-usage has been identified. Thus the problem has been identified, but the reasons are not clear.


Determination that the problem warrants action

(same as above)


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.


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.


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], STEP) 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 is also 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, with 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 is through December 31, 2019, then the baseline year would be January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019 for a grant starting in October of 2020. 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 can 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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Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (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 STEP must be filled in and is provided in the RFP budget document. The baseline year and the baseline number for each measure to be covered by a STEP must be entered. The citation and crash data must be from the site location (city, county, roadway section, etc.) that the STEP will target.

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Baseline Information

Baseline information serves as a foundation for proposers to measure pre-grant traffic enforcement activity. Baseline information must be provided by the proposers to identify local traffic enforcement related activity and includes the total number of traffic and patrol hours by the subgrantee agency and the total number of vehicle stops in the past 12 months. The information must exclude any activity generated with STEP grant dollars. Once the baseline is established, these figures will be used to compare subsequent year's local and grant traffic enforcement activity.

Additionally, proposers must enter the three-year-average KA (injury crash) crash data for their jurisdiction as it appears on the RFP Budget Document. The baseline numbers are critical in establishing the causes and numbers of fatalities, injuries, crashes and property damage in a community and are used to measure the effectiveness of grant-related enforcement efforts in reducing crashes.

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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:

In each of these areas, the assessment should include:

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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, and then enter “community assessment” in the search box.

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