An example that has always influenced my thinking on this was a front-page article in the student newspaper at my university, which contained some finance data they had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The paper published the data, but failed to ask the crucial “so what?” question, rendering the statistics meaningless and leaving it to the reader to determine the implications. The narrative and any chance to influence change was therefore lost.
As a road safety data analyst, I see one of my main roles within the community of road safety professionals as asking this “so what?” question of our statistics, and translating the otherwise rather dry lists of numbers our data give us into meaningful intelligence to support the wider road safety endeavours in the region.
Whilst every road traffic collision is different and has numerous small factors that led to its occurrence, when we start to take the information of 100 or 1,000 collisions, we can start to see patterns through the use of statistics and analysis. On their own these numbers would remain just that, but by asking the “so what?” question about the data, this analysis can be used to direct our limited road safety resources towards interventions that have the largest impacts on road user safety.
This could be as simple as looking at a junction with heightened collision numbers, or a much wider issue on whether people from areas with higher levels of deprivation are more likely to be injured in a collision. Both these examples would initially give us a nice headline figure from the statistics, but the real value comes from asking the “so what?” question of the data. By taking that next step to analyse and report the findings back to the wider road safety community real-world change and improvements can be implemented.
This translation process after the analysis of the data is also essential, as from my experience, many road safety practitioners simply do not have the time to work through detailed statistical reports. Therefore, the job of a road safety analyst is also to take the information identified by asking the “so what?” question and provide easy to understand results, which can then be used to direct and justify road safety interventions. This can range from child pedestrian training, to junction improvements, to safety camera deployment schedules.
I firmly believe that taking the time to ask “so what?” of statistics, and by ensuring that the resulting analysis is written with regard to the intended audience significantly improves their usefulness in helping to make the roads safer.
This blog is published for Road Safety Week 2021 in celebration of the road safety heroes who help us make safe and healthy journeys and support people after road crashes. Click here to find out more and sign up to take part.
Data Analyst for the North East Regional Road Safety Resource