Tag Archives: accident records

Why official accident stats don’t always match citizen complaints

The in basket: I often get complaints from readers about a lot of accidents at some location where the governing jurisdiction’s data shows not nearly as many. Sometimes it’s clearly because of a lag in the official record keeping reports, and sometimes people exaggerate. But I wondered whether there are other explanations.

The out basket: Trooper Russ Winger explains the official records:

“These stats are compiled from the Police Traffic Collision Report (PTCR) that law enforcement officers statewide submit as a Reportable Collision. The Washington State Patrol Collision Records Section is the repository for the state’s collision records.

“They receive all Vehicle Collision Reports from law enforcement officers of the state, county, city, town, or other political subdivision along with civilians that report their own collision.

“These reports are written for each vehicle collision resulting in injury or death of any person, or damage to the property of any one person to an apparent extent of $700 or more.

“Statewide collision statistics are gathered and entered into a data base at Collision Records in Olympia. The WSDOT is the agency that oversees the data collection although it is administered by the WSP office of Collision Records. Washington State shares its data with NHTSA, the Federal agency responsible for traffic safety and information.

“Officers complete the PTCR either in hand written form, which are then mailed in or through electronic format.

“Officers who investigate collisions have to make a judgment call about the monetary damage to vehicles in deciding whether to complete the PTCR. It takes relatively little damage to reach the $700 level in modern vehicles.

“Persons involved in collisions investigated by law enforcement where a PTCR is completed are NOT required to complete a Civilian Collision Report.

“Many very minor collisions are also investigated by law enforcement that fall under the “non-reportable” class. They are usually very minor damage, or no damage, such as when a vehicle slides into a ditch and no damage results. The officer usually takes the basic information down and enters it into their respective jurisdiction data base. A PTCR is not completed and therefore this information is not reported to Collision Records. Drivers involved can complete a Civilian Collision Report individually if they choose to do so but the reports are not mandatory.

“Drivers involved in minor collisions that are not investigated by law enforcement, where drivers decide mutually to simply exchange information and leave, can also complete and submit a Civilian Report. Submission is again not mandatory for either party.

“So it is true, numerous collisions happen across the state that are not investigated by law enforcement or reported to Accident Records in Olympia by drivers or police. Drivers sometimes just drive off, after crashing the vehicle. Many collisions that occur during a storm or snow event are just driven off, even though they may have sustained reportable damage or injury. There are numerous scenarios possible where collisions are not reported to Olympia,” Russ concluded.