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NDSU Research Aims to Help Tribes Improve Crash Reporting and Reduce Accidents

Posted: Feb 16, 2022

Researchers at North Dakota State University examined Indian nations' motor vehicle crash reporting systems with the intent of helping them establish systems to gather key information they can use to better understand the causes of crashes and prevent them.

The research was recently published as an article, "Advancing Indian Nation's Motor Vehicle Crash Reporting," in Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. Author Kimberly Vachal is a researcher at NDSU's Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute.

Vachal noted that the American Indian population experiences a motor vehicle crash death rate that is 40% higher than the U.S. population as a whole. In North Dakota, Native Americans accounted for 9% of the reported fatal rural road crashes between 2012 and 2016, while representing only 3% of the state's population.

"Most of the indigenous populations lack the fundamental data needed to understand why the crashes occur and how to implement countermeasures to prevent them," Vachal said. "We looked at the crash reporting systems of four tribes to develop a practical approach that gathers the necessary data while maintaining local needs for accountability and sovereignty."

The researchers used field visits, electronic interviews, phone interviews, document reviews, and data collection to gain a better understanding of the crash reporting system for the four largest tribes in North Dakota: the Mandan Hidatsa, Arikara Tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Spirit Lake Nation, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. They found that tribal-state mistrust, limited tribal law enforcement resources and capacity, and deficient tribal crash reporting processes have been challenges to collaboration and adequate data collection. A lack of training and staff turnover were also issues.

Vachal said the research indicates that greater transparency is needed at all levels for improved crash reporting to ensure a shared understanding and expectations with regard to crash reports compiled by Bureau of Indian Affairs officers on behalf of the tribal communities they serve. External support for a crash reporting system would help those tribal communities willing to commit to improving crash data. Likewise, clear agreements establishing state, federal, and local responsibilities in crash reporting would help resolve concerns and misunderstandings.

"Our study was not designed to tell tribes how to develop their own crash reporting systems, but the lessons learned will allow them to more efficiently pursue the development of such a system," Vachal said.

The research was funded by the Mountain-Plains Consortium, a University Transportation Center comprised of eight universities led by the UGPTI and competitively funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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