On the significance of omitted variables in intersection crash modeling

Accid Anal Prev. 2012 Nov;49:439-48. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2012.03.014. Epub 2012 Apr 24.


Advances in safety research--trying to improve the collective understanding of motor vehicle crash causes and contributing factors--rest upon the pursuit of numerous lines of research inquiry. The research community has focused considerable attention on analytical methods development (negative binomial models, simultaneous equations, etc.), on better experimental designs (before-after studies, comparison sites, etc.), on improving exposure measures, and on model specification improvements (additive terms, non-linear relations, etc.). One might logically seek to know which lines of inquiry might provide the most significant improvements in understanding crash causation and/or prediction. It is the contention of this paper that the exclusion of important variables (causal or surrogate measures of causal variables) cause omitted variable bias in model estimation and is an important and neglected line of inquiry in safety research. In particular, spatially related variables are often difficult to collect and omitted from crash models--but offer significant opportunities to better understand contributing factors and/or causes of crashes. This study examines the role of important variables (other than Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT)) that are generally omitted from intersection crash prediction models. In addition to the geometric and traffic regulatory information of intersection, the proposed model includes many spatial factors such as local influences of weather, sun glare, proximity to drinking establishments, and proximity to schools--representing a mix of potential environmental and human factors that are theoretically important, but rarely used. Results suggest that these variables in addition to AADT have significant explanatory power, and their exclusion leads to omitted variable bias. Provided is evidence that variable exclusion overstates the effect of minor road AADT by as much as 40% and major road AADT by 14%.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Arizona
  • Bias
  • Causality
  • Cities
  • Databases, Factual
  • Environment Design
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Safety / statistics & numerical data*
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Weather