Road Accident Data Collection Form Design Research Project
STATS19 is a standard set of data that are collected by the police following personal injury accidents on the public road. The data are collated by local authorities, Transport Scotland and the Department for Transport and are used nationally to monitor trends, inform policy and to identify areas for action. There is no national data collection form; the protocol simply describes what data should be collected and how it should be submitted. In 2013 eight legacy police forces in Scotland merged and formed Police Scotland, and therefore there are likely to be differences to the data collection across the force.
The aim of this project was to review the currently used versions of the STATS19 form by the legacy police forces in Scotland and produce a new form that incorporates recommendations for improvement that could be potentially rolled out nationally to help improve the quality of the personal injury road accident data collected in Scotland.
The content of the STATS19 data is reviewed every five years as part of the quinquennial review across Great Britain, meaning that variables and the information collected could not be considered as part of this work. Therefore, this project focussed on the design of the form and any changes that could be made to improve the completeness and accuracy of the data collected in Scotland.
In order to review and provide recommendations for an improved STATS19 form, a four-stage methodology was undertaken which involved:
- reviewing known literature in the field of form design and data quality which could inform a redesign of the STATS19 form
- engaging with those who use the STATS19 forms and/or data at all stages of the process (Police Officers, Local Authorities and Transport Scotland statisticians) to understand how the forms and/or data are used, what works well and what they thought could be improved
- using the feedback gathered, and with guidance from field experts to develop a revised form
- testing and adapting the revised form with potential users to explore the impact of the modifications on user-friendliness, accuracy of data input and consistency
The STATS19 data collection system was created in 1979, and since then, the design, content and appearance of the system has changed many times as part of quinquennial reviews. The form's key limitations and inconsistencies have been identified in previous research which suggested that improvements could be made to the form design, as well as standardisation and training on how STATS19 data should be collected and recorded.
Literature about form design for non-specialists suggests that any form should be tailored around the user and form purpose. Some designs are quicker for users to complete whereas others tend to lead to a better quality of data. Most studies found that participants preferred tick lists or free text boxes to drop down lists and other more interactive input modes but agreed that drop down lists lead to fewer data entry errors. The literature also agreed that participants find forms where the label is above the answer box or to the left of the answer box with right alignment the most comfortable as well as the quickest to use.
Telephone interviews were undertaken with eighteen stakeholders from Police Scotland, Local Authorities, and Transport Scotland. All eight of the legacy Scottish Police force areas, believed to be using different STATS19 recording systems were represented in the consultation (seven legacy forces were represented by Police contacts, while the eighth was covered at Local Authority level).
Generally the types of form used, the processes followed and user perceptions varied. It became clear throughout the interviews that no consistent approach is used, despite widespread agreement that consistency is desirable. One legacy force used a PDA to report data; the other respondents wrote notes in their notebook and completed a STATS19 form later at the Police station. Different stakeholders also had different ideas as to why the data were collected and how it was used.
Local Authority representatives described one of the challenges that they face is related to errors about location data provided by Police Officers via the STATS19 forms. This data was viewed as critical for them to reach their road safety goals, particularly in terms of identifying problematic contributory factors or high frequency accident areas.
The consultation revealed that while Police Officers did not identify any specific areas of improvement, they did raise a number of small, usability issues. These mostly related to user friendliness and adding information or options to facilitate more accurate data input. None of the participants identified specific redundant or less useful variables, even though they suggested shortening the form to make it more user-friendly.
Form design and vignettes
The revised STATS19 form was developed using insights from the literature review and the consultation as well as expert opinion. The form was designed to ensure that it was in a usable format for the Police or other users. Based on the information about the way in which accident data was collected from the consultation, a paper-based form was not felt to be the most appropriate format, therefore the revised form was developed using Microsoft Excel.
The revised Excel form was designed to reduce or eliminate some of the accuracy issues highlighted in earlier tasks, while also incorporating any relevant best practice guidelines identified in the literature to enhance its layout and design. Some of the feedback on the draft revised form, as well as information obtained from the literature review and the results of the analysis of the data received relating to the vignettes, described below, were used to make further amendments to the form.
Four vignettes (fictional accident case studies) were developed, refined and tested with Police Officers who had participated in the consultation. They were designed to include collision types known to cause confusion or result in inconsistencies as identified in the consultation and literature review. The revised form yielded more accurate and more consistent results than the forms that the Police Officers were used to completing and qualitative feedback from users indicated that the revised form was well-received. Some of the feedback and findings were used to make further amendments to the revised form before it was finalised.
Findings and outputs
The output from this project has been the successful development of a suggested revised example STATS19 form, based on evidence from users of the form that may lead to improved data quality. Developing the form in Microsoft Excel was considered to be an improvement in terms of the accuracy and ease of completing, and respected Transport Scotland's requirement for a solution that did not need large scale IT resources, hardware and training.
Alongside the development of the revised form, a number of future recommendations were identified relating to the data collection process, options for training and enhancing user engagement with the form, as well as modifications or refinements to variables and data collection items.