Reliability of police-reported information for determining crash and injury severity

Traffic Inj Prev. 2003 Mar;4(1):38-44. doi: 10.1080/15389580309855.


Posted speed limit and police-reported injury codes are commonly used by researchers to approximate vehicle impact and occupant injury severity. In-depth crash investigations, however, produce more precise measures of crash and injury severity: change in velocity (delta-V) for crash severity and Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) scores for injury severity. A comparison of data from police crash reports with that gathered by National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) investigators highlighted the inadequacy of speed limit and police injury codes as proxies for delta-V and AIS injury severity. In general, delta-V increased with speed limit and higher values of AIS were associated with higher police-coded injury severity, but there were a number of anomalies. In particular, 49% of the drivers coded by police as having incapacitating injuries actually had sustained no more than minor injuries. This overstatement of injury severity was less frequent among male (44%) and elderly (37%) drivers than among female (53%) and nonelderly (50%) drivers. Also, 79% of the investigated vehicles that crashed on roads posted at 60 mph (96 km/h) or higher experienced a delta-V less than 25 mph (40 km/h). Safety studies depending on data from only police reports to establish injury or crash severity therefore could produce erroneous results.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abbreviated Injury Scale
  • Accidents, Traffic / classification*
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Data Collection / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Vehicles / statistics & numerical data
  • Police / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design / standards
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / classification*
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology