Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Accidents Will Happen

The title of this post is the headline to a story by Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune published today on the subject of errors in Texas Department of Public Safety accident reports. Here are some notable excerpts:

State troopers turned in hundreds of error-riddled accident reports in 2007 and 2008, according to an internal audit report compiled by the Texas Department of Public Safety last year.

In Hillsboro — the region with the most errors — more than two-thirds of the reports that officers filed in the first half of 2007 contained mistakes, according to the audit, which The Texas Tribune obtained through an open records request. Internal DPS auditors reviewed accident reports from troopers in 22 regions across the state. In 17 of those regions, auditors found that at least 30 percent of the accident reports that troopers submitted contained errors.

As official legal documents, there’s a lot riding on the accuracy of accident reports, which are used to help establish who was at fault in a wreck and whose insurance will shell out for damages and medical bills. Data in the reports also guides transportation policymakers’ decisions about how and where to spend millions of traffic safety dollars. ...

Major Casey Goetz of the DPS highway patrol division, who worked on some of the audits, says that many of the errors were simple, administrative mistakes. Significant errors that auditors found, he said, were corrected. Since the audit, DPS has improved trooper training, and the number of accident report errors has dropped significantly, he says. “We put some checks and balances in place to ensure that wouldn’t ever happen again,” Goetz says. ...

Goetz suggested a number of reason[s] for the high error rate. DPS, he says, hired a slew of new troopers who were inundated with new duties, including spending days at a time on border security assignments. And in some areas, he says, there were changes in local leadership that created gaps. “The troop, because of the work volume we all have, was pushing it through and saying, ‘If it’s wrong my sergeant will catch it,’” he says. “The sergeant was saying, ‘This is a good troop,’ and probably just initialing.”
As detailed in the chart below from the Tribune, error rates ranged by region from 38% to 63%, so even the "best" regions had large numbers of reports riddled with errors.


Anonymous said...

From Ms. Grissom's report "In the Decatur area in North Texas, auditors found that in the last half of 2007, troopers failed to file charges where substantial violations occurred in at least six accidents."

She does not say what the "substantial" violations were. With that said, I never did like to write a citation just because someone made a mistake. I always felt like law enforcement was being used as civil arbitrators when it came to accident investigations.

Perhaps it's time to relegate that authority to someone else so law enforcement is not tied up with the civil proceedings that usually follow.

Don Dickson said...

I posted a comment to Ms. Grissom's article, and I'll say much the same about it here.

There are hundreds of data fields on these crash reports, more get added every year, and the instructions change so often that Troopers have to keep going back for training on the changes. The DPS identified about eight data fields as being "critical." Almost all of the rest of it is purely for the benefit of lawyers and insurance adjusters.

Per data field, the error rate is surely below one percent.

Filling out these reports involves hours at the collision scene and hours more in front of a computer. Troopers are given deadlines for submitting these reports, and they are also pressured in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to spend more of their time on patrol and less of it writing reports.

It is my personal opinion that we'd be a lot better off if Troopers could collect and report the "critical" data and let the lawyers and adjusters figure out the rest of it.

Anonymous said...

Part of the critical problems are these brown shirted - booted, big hatted folks that stare at citizens like they will arrest you for looking at them. What happened to their attitude and character?

Anonymous said...

Anyone ever thought about the quality of trooper hired that is required to complete these, at times, complex investigations? To be blunt, not all that apply and are hired as troopers may also be competent at or even interested in the investigative side of the job. It's a part of the position which is a bit different than the glad-handing, action-directed, independent-oriented individual that may be attracted to the position thanks to TV and film images. Two different skill sets in many cases. Just wondering. :~)

Don Dickson said...

If you want your Troopers to be excellent typists, then clearly there is a gaping hole in the DPS academy's 28-week curriculum. But they've got accident investigation covered pretty thoroughly, and it's a lot more complicated than most civilians might anticipate. The required math skills alone are pretty impressive.

Anonymous said...

Donald, to quote the article, "More troubling were the major errors, which Goetz says accounted for 15 percent to 20 percent of the mistakes they found. In several instances, troopers recorded incorrect contributing factors to the accidents or filed wrong charges against drivers."

I don't want them to necessarily be excellent typists, just excellent investigators. :~)

Don Dickson said...

We're still talking about 15% of 30%. That means that one out of every 25 crash reports has an error in one of eight data fields.

It's not a huge quantity of errors, at least I don't see it as such. As the Texas Tribune reported a while back, the DPS has a demonstrated ability to ((cough)) correct ((cough)) errors on crash reports.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention who gets 75 years of their life taken away for a car accident and who doesn't... Oh is that just those who reside in Williamson county? ...Sandra

Anonymous said...

Accuracy counts for very little anymore. However, in police work and medicine we expect our trained officers and medical professionals to do a better job. Take the time to do it right the first time, so that it doesn't have to be redone.

Most of the time, lives are not on the line with the preparation of an accident report, but a lot of people besides the attorneys and insurance claims adjusters see them. They are often used in the prosecution and defense of criminal charges as well.

Insurance companies use them all the time to deny paying claims. Doesn't sound like much until you're one of those who has to fight it out with an insurance adjuster just to get half of what you're claim is worth.

Yes, troopers are not hired because of their secretarial abilities. However, when they submit their reports to be prepared by their staff (if they have a secretary) then they should carefully review the report prior to submitting it to their supervisor. The supervisors should have caught these errors and asked for clarifications or needed changes.

Although this is a small percentage of all the reports filed, troopers can continue to work toward a goal of 100% accuracy in everything they do.

Anonymous said...

Donald, you say "a lot more complicated than most civilians might anticipate".

Troopers are civilians also (as are all LEO), unless they are military.

That's the "us" vs "them" mentality that has diseased law enforcement.

Anonymous said...


15 to 20% major errors leading to the filing of "wrong charges" isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, a minor issue. To some it's plain negligence. Gee, I wonder what DMV will say when I fill out their forms with a 15 to 20% error rate in their data fields? Sorry but it is pure incompetence. And now the've lower the training hours required to serve as a trooper! :~)