Concerns With NHTSA's Data Collection Systems--NASS and FARS

Gao ID: 120182 April 17, 1979

The National Accident Sampling System (NASS) accumulates detailed, national statistics on motor vehicle accidents to create a base for evaluating safety standards and designing countermeasures. The Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) collects information on highway fatalities as a guide for highway safety decisionmaking. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses or has plans to use both of these systems to support its decisions.

NASS is a pilot program which was designed with little state and local input, even though cooperation with and from these areas is of paramount importance. The continuous sampling format currently used by NASS is limited to police-reported towaway accidents, and thus is not representative of all highway accidents. Quarterly dissemination of NASS statistics is needed so that potential highway safety problem areas can be predicted and countermeasures effectively implemented. A FARS report of fatal accidents issued for 1977 contained such high rates of responses in the unknown category that it was of little value for evaluation purposes. Despite reported assurances by NHTSA, FARS data access has been cumbersome and expensive. Annual reports covering fatalities for 1975 through 1977 were not issued until at least ten months after each reporting year had ended. The recent implementation of a computerized on-line data entry system and an ongoing evaluation effort for FARS should alleviate many of these problems.


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