Tribal Road Safety Data Collection

Since 2014, under annual grants from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), SafeTREC has been working on the Tribal Road Safety Data Collection project to improve traffic safety on tribal lands in California. The goal of this project is to improve traffic safety on and near tribal lands in California. 

Project Background

It is vital to improve road safety for California’s tribal populations, as well as for all population groups that travel to the California’s Rancherias and reservations or through their lands. Improving the quality and quantity of data collected in regards to the collisions that occur within the boundaries of these lands is a necessary step to achieving this goal.

Funding for traffic safety improvements is increasingly being awarded based on collision data that document the extent of the safety problem. Projects for which data is required now include roadway upgrades, enforcement efforts, and education programs. However, data documenting collisions on tribal lands is lacking and puts tribal communities at a disadvantage in the competition for safety project funding. It is clearly critical, therefore, to obtain collision data (counts and descriptions), including pedestrian and bicyclist collisions, on tribal lands, and it must be as accurate as possible.

Although data is limited, Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) and Statewide Integrated Traffic Record System (SWITRS) data suggest that Native Americans are a disproportionately high-risk population for traffic injury.  Roadway design, pedestrian and driver behavior, and environmental factors contribute to crash risk, the data suggest. In addition, factors such as age, speeding, seatbelt use, time of day, location, and alcohol use increase injury risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related deaths for Native Americans or Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) age 19 and younger, and that among crashes on reservations between 1982 and 2002, an estimated 65 percent were alcohol-related (compared with a 47 percent nationally) [1].

However, there is a universal acknowledgment that crashes occurring on and near tribal areas are underreported. California Highway Patrol (CHP) responds to a minimal number of tribal collisions, therefore an unknown number of collisions are not being reported at all. Of those to which CHP does respond, crashes reported to SWITRS are limited to those that occur on state highways that traverse tribal lands and those in which a crime occurs (e.g., DUI). Individual tribal areas differ in how collisions are investigated and reported. Approximately one-third of the 110 federally-recognized tribes in California have some type of enforcement departments. To date, we have conducted in-depth interviews with 19 of these tribes. Of these 19 tribes, 15 collect crash data on tribal roads. However, none of these 15 tribes submit data to SWITRS. During the 2017-18 fiscal year, we gathered information for the remaining tribes that have enforcement departments to determine whether they collect crash data and whether any of these data are submitted to SWITRS.

Tribal Crash Data Tool

SafeTREC works in collaboration with the National Indian Justice Center (NIJC) to enhance the capacity of tribal entities to collect crash data and submit this data to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Record System (SWITRS) and use SWITRS data to conduct traffic safety analyses on tribal lands. SafeTREC developed a tribal crash data tool by obtaining shapefiles from 107 of the 110 federally recognized tribal areas in California; the remaining three tribal areas are landless or comprise only trust land owned by individual tribal members. These shape files define tribal boundaries, and by overlaying geocoded collision data from the Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS) onto these shape files, a description (number, type, etc.) of traffic collisions was generated. Geocoded crash data for a ten-year period has been linked with tribal shape files to identify injury collisions within tribal boundaries and in the immediate vicinity of tribal areas. Since tribal lands have not been identified by a SWITRS jurisdiction code, this is the first time in California that it was possible to determine traffic collision trends/patterns in tribal areas.    

This data tool provides tribes with access to a web-based interactive analysis and mapping tool for tribal areas. This tool is password protected and has a function for entering collision data, and includes a function for submitting crash data to SWITRS and features for mapping and analyses of data related to the tribal area. The tribal data tool utilizes tribal shape files since SWITRS does not include jurisdiction codes for tribes.

We have introduced this tool to a number of tribal communities. To date, approximately 30 tribes have used the tool to explore traffic collision patterns on or near their tribal lands, and some have begun to use the tool to produce data for crash analyses and safety funding. The use of this tool has demonstrated to tribes the value of accessing SWITRS data for their tribal lands. However, the data available in SWITRS for tribal road safety analyses is limited because the data available from SWITRS is primarily comprised of data collected from State Highway System roads running through tribal areas. There is evidence that even crash data from these roads are underreported.

Surveys and Interviews

We have conducted a survey questionnaire with knowledge gathered from literature review and inputs from Advisory Committee members; conducted pilot phone surveys among selected tribes, and gathered useful information on traffic collision data collection and reporting procedures on California tribal lands. Through these phone surveys and interviews with tribes as well as discussions at conferences and workshops involving tribal personnel and presentations at various workshops, we have expanded working relations with a large number of stakeholders including individual tribal communities and tribal liaisons in various state agencies (Caltrans, CHP). 

Steps to Address Underreporting

We have identified the following factors related to underreporting of crashes in tribal areas and the steps we are taking to address these factors:

  • Lack of expertise in traffic collision investigation and reporting: We are developing and piloting in-person and web-based training modules.
  • Lack of appropriate roles (e.g., lack of a police department or lack of a clear role of traffic crash investigation and reporting by the police): The training modules we develop will be tailored to the specific type of police role maintained by the tribe.
  • Wish of tribes to keep data confidential: This was a recurrent statement in our interviews with tribal personnel. Starting January 2017, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is implementing an approach that will permit tribes to submit crash records to SWITRS while maintaining confidentiality of individual tribal members. We will include discussion and demonstration of this approach in the training modules being developed and tested in our project.
  • Tribal areas are more diverse than anticipated in terms of road networks, policing, and record keeping: A database describing this diversity is being developed so that training and resource allocation can be tailored to the specific resources and capability of the tribe.
  • Absence of usable infrastructure (e.g., road network) data for most tribal areas: We are adopting a statewide infrastructure database (California Road System, or CRS) being developed by Caltrans to represent the road network in and around tribal areas.
  • Distance from crashes to the nearest trauma center is more than double in tribal areas compared with other areas of California: Responses from our survey indicate very uncertain EMS response for some tribal areas. We are obtaining data from CMOSH (data linking crash, EMS, and ED data) and will be conducting analyses of the factors that could help reduce EMS response time.
  • A substantial number of traffic injuries occur on roads leading to/from or otherwise related to tribal areas, and in a large number of cases, linking separate areas of the same tribe: We are conducting a survey to determine travel patterns of tribal members—i.e., to what degree are roadways leading to/from tribal areas used by tribal members and/or others travelling to tribal destinations.
  • There is a need for ongoing training/technical support for tribes in collecting injury data, assembling road inventory data, and utilizing these data to identify risk areas and for developing proposals for countermeasures: This is based on findings from our interactions with tribes through data collection, participation with workshop attendees, and responses to survey interviews. We will utilize this detailed information about the characteristics and needs of individual tribes, and will be able to tailor our web-based and onsite training to meet these individual needs.
  • There is a need for tribal-based organizational structure for implementing and coordinating traffic safety data protocols for collecting and utilizing traffic safety related data (crash, inventory, exposure): We are developing a concentrated center of expertise in traffic crash data collection and analysis.
  • Lack of resources can be an obstacle to maintaining a sufficient number of officers on a police force, to adequate training, and to obtaining necessary equipment and software: We will conduct a survey to ascertain the needs of individual tribes and to identify potential resources for meeting such needs (e.g., FHWA, BIA).

SafeTREC will continue to collaborate with NIJC to provide guidance and assistance to CA tribes to improve the quality and quantity of traffic collision data collected on and near tribal areas, to directly address the issue of under-reporting of crash data, to conduct training and provide technical assistance to tribal enforcement agencies, and to facilitate crash data collection and analysis.  Furthermore, SafeTREC continues to coordinate with CHP and local enforcement agencies to help create a framework for submission of tribal crash data to the state crash database, i.e., SWITRS.  We have already identified a number of tribes who collect crash data at some level and have expressed interest in technical support for collecting, analyzing and reporting crash data.

We invite representatives of individual tribes to contact us for more information about this project and the traffic safety information on and in the vicinity of their tribal areas.

For more information, please contact David Ragland at

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Injury Prevention and Control: Motor Vehicle Safety.”

Funding for this project is provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).