Research In Action

Research In Action

Improve Access to State Licensing and Crash Data
Improve Access to State Licensing and Crash Data
April 14, 2020

Since joining Dr. Allison E. Curry’s research team at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), I’ve been using an innovative research tool, the New Jersey Safety and Health Outcomes (NJ-SHO) Data Warehouse, to better understand why crashes happen and how to prevent them.

The NJ-SHO Data Warehouse highlights the importance of data linkage to further research. It includes data from motor vehicle crashes, driver licenses, and traffic citations, in addition to data on outcomes like death certificates and hospital discharges. Over the past decade, our team has published 25 peer-reviewed manuscripts and reports using NJ-SHO that have had a demonstrable impact on young driver safety.

Our most recent paper, published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, explains why traffic safety researchers and advocates need to take action to improve access to this state data.

Although traffic safety researchers in Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, and France frequently access and link crash data to hospital data or trauma data registries, only a handful of US-based research groups and programs have been able to link individual-level crash and hospital data or trauma registries, and even fewer have linked driver license data. To help understand this missed opportunity to advance traffic safety knowledge, we conducted a legal mapping study to systematically evaluate state laws regulating the release of driver licensing and crash data for scientific research.

More Than A Legal Barrier

Study results show a disconnect between legal authorization of releasing driver licensing data and the scarcity of its use by traffic safety researchers:

  • 35 states and the District of Columbia explicitly authorize the release of individual-level identifiable licensing data to non-governmental researchers.
  • Only five states and the District of Columbia clearly authorize the release of identifiable individual-level crash records and the vast majority do not specify whether release of this data is permissible.
  • Since no states prohibit the release of licensing records and only three states prohibit releasing crash records to researchers, this suggests that other barriers beyond legal availability should be considered.

Future research is critically needed to understand why more researchers aren’t using state licensing and crash data to study traffic safety topics. Gaining access to this data should be a priority for researchers and traffic safety stakeholders. This future research should determine the extent to which other factors come into play when researchers request license and crash data:

  • data infrastructure
  • informal departmental policies
  • concern around inappropriate use and redisclosure of protected data
  • competing priorities

A Win-Win Solution

We understand that administrative traffic databases are often maintained in isolation. Yet, linkage of these datasets can improve states’ ability to monitor trends and priorities and to evaluate the impact of various programs to improve road safety. By partnering with researchers experienced in epidemiologic methods to determine data quality and ensure the rigor of analyses, states can be assured that their data collection will help advance injury methods, inform traffic safety policy, and enhance our understanding of why crashes happen and how to prevent them.

To facilitate more academic-state partnerships like CIRP’s with New Jersey, state laws need to be reformed to bridge the disconnect between actual access and researchers’ use of traffic safety data at the state level.