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Back to Archives | Back to July 2008 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

Intelligence-Led Traffic Safety Policing

By Joel Bolton, Project Manager, Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovation, Natchitoches, Louisiana

ntelligence-led policing is a method of law enforcement that has been adopted by many police managers to reduce crime and neighborhood problems. In this method’s simplest form, raw data and other information are analyzed and turned into actionable intelligence to guide decision making. The IACP Intelligence Summit in 2002 defined intelligence as “the combination of credible information with quality analysis—information that has been evaluated and from which conclusions have been drawn.”1

As a management tool, the concept of intelligence-led policing certainly has application to an agency’s traffic safety education and enforcement efforts. Analyzing raw crash data the agency already possesses and combining that with research on driver behavior can help the agency develop effective strategies to reduce crashes and better allocate resources for enforcement and education efforts.

Most agencies are capable of determining from their reports when and where crashes are occurring, as well as severity levels and cause factors. Agencies need this information to help design workable enforcement strategies.

Driver behavior research is important to targeting educational messages, whether delivered in speeches to community groups, as media public service announcements, or through other communication avenues. For example, determining which age groups are least likely to wear seat belts or are most likely to speed or drive while impaired enables agencies to direct their messages at the appropriate audiences. Gathering and synthesizing this particular type of information is beyond the analytical sophistication of most agencies’ data systems—or the time constraints (and inclinations) of agency personnel.

For this reason, this column has combed through hundreds of pages of recently released National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research reports to provide readers with the most significant pieces of statistical information. Amid discussions of complex multistage probability samples, imputation of unknown values, and procedures for complex and variance estimations, information was found that provides some insight into current driver behavior issues to help any agency craft its traffic safety message.

Additionally, this summary would make great talking points for the next presentation at a Kiwanis, Rotary, or other civic group meeting.

Seat Belt Use

The NHTSA reports that 82 percent of U.S. citizens buckled up in 2007. This number is drawn from the agency’s National Occupant Protection Use Survey and shows the progress that has been made in changing driver and passenger behavior through effective enforcement and education programs. Just over a decade ago (1996), this same survey found belt use rate at only 61 percent.

A look at crash data from 2006 revealed that the number of people killed who were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash represented 55 percent of the total fatalities 16 years of age and older, a four–percentage point improvement from 2002. Those most likely to be killed while not wearing a seat belt were males aged 21–34 and occupants of pickup trucks.

Most of those killed while riding unrestrained were involved in nighttime crashes, peaking between the hours of midnight and 3:00 a.m. This study also determined that, on the basis of vehicle miles traveled, the fatality rate at night is three times that of daytime crashes.2

Seat belt use rates in the backseat are lower than those for the front seat. Those over the age of 70 buckle up in the backseat at a higher rate than other age groups. Laws that require seat belt use in all seating positions result in higher use rates in the back.3

Observational use rate surveys show that the following restraint rates of children, by age group: aged 0 to 12 months, 98 percent; aged one to three years, 96 percent; four to seven years, 85 percent; and 8–12 years, 83 percent.4

Impaired Driving

A combination of improvements in alcohol laws and changing demographics contributed to the leveling off of alcohol-related crash statistics in 1997 after years of decline. The aging population is less likely to drink and drive, and therefore older drivers are less likely to be involved in a fatal alcohol-related crash.

Laws that continue to be “very effective” in reducing alcohol-related crashes include minimum drinking age laws, .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) statutes, and automatic license revocation.5

The Bottom Line

And finally, the primary reason law enforcement agencies continue to stress traffic safety: motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. citizens between the ages of 3 and 34.6 That should be all the impetus needed to approach traffic enforcement responsibilities with dedication, commitment, and intelligence. ■


1International Association of Chiefs of Police and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Intelligence Sharing: A National Plan for Intelligence-Led Policing at the Local, State and Federal Levels, August 2002, (accessed May 29, 2008), v.
2“Characteristics of Unrestrained Passenger Vehicle Occupant Fatalities 16 and Older in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes by Time of Day,” NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note, May 2008, DOT HS 810 948, (accessed May 29, 2008).
3Tony Jianqiang Ye and Timothy M. Pickrell, “Seat Belt Use in Rear Seats in 2007,” NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note, April 2008, DOT HS 810 933, (accessed May 29, 2008).
4Donna Glassbrenner and Tony Jianqiang Ye, “Child Restraint Use in 2007—Demographic Results,” NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note, January 2008, DOT HS 810 897, (accessed May 29, 2008).
5NHTSA, Statistical Analysis of Alcohol-Related Driving Trends, 1982–2005, May 2008, DOT HS 810 942, (accessed May 29, 2008).
6“Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes As a Leading Cause of Death in the United States, 2005,” NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note, April 2008, DOT HS 810 936, (accessed May 29, 2008).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 7, July 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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