Data for GES come from a nationally representative sample of police reported motor vehicle crashes of all types, from minor to fatal. The system began operation in 1988, and was created to identify traffic safety problem areas, provide a basis for regulatory and consumer initiatives, and form the basis for cost and benefit analyses of traffic safety initiatives. The information is used to estimate how many motor vehicle crashes of different kinds take place, and what happens when they occur. Although various sources suggest that about half the motor vehicle crashes in the country are not reported to the police, the majority of these unreported crashes involve only minor property damage and no significant personal injury. By restricting attention to police-reported crashes, GES concentrates on those crashes of greatest concern to the highway safety community and the general public.
GES data are used in traffic safety analyses by NHTSA as well as other DOT agencies. GES data are also used to answer motor vehicle safety questions from Congress, lawyers, doctors, students, researchers, and the general public.
In order for a crash to be eligible for the GES sample a police accident report (PAR) must be completed, it must involve at least one motor vehicle traveling on a traffic way, and the result must be property damage, injury, or death.
These accident reports are chosen from 60 areas that reflect the geography, roadway mileage, population, and traffic density of the U.S. GES data collectors make weekly visits to approximately 400 police jurisdictions in the 60 areas across the United States, where they randomly sample about 50,000 PARs each year. The collectors obtain copies of the PARs and send them to a central contractor for coding. No other data are collected beyond the selected PARs.
Trained data entry personnel interpret and code data directly from the PARs into an electronic data file. Approximately 90 data elements are coded into a common format. Some element modification takes place every other year in order to meet the changing needs of the traffic safety community. To protect individual privacy, no personal information, such as names, addresses, or specific crash locations, is coded. During coding, the data are checked electronically for validity and consistency. After the data file is created, further quality checks are performed on the data through computer processing and by the data coding supervisors.
An annual publication, Traffic Safety Facts, is produced with GES data for nonfatal crashes, combined with information on fatal crashes from the Fatal Analysis Reporting System.