Scientific Papers

The Five “I” Framework of crash investigation: Linking investigation practices to safety reform


Crash investigation is vital to the advancement of road safety, and it is a foundation for determining effective countermeasures and interventions for true road safety reform. However, the way in which road crash investigations are conducted substantially influences the quality of understanding and the effectiveness of responses. In crash investigations, we traditionally focus first on the question: “What caused this crash?” when it would be more efficient to ask immediately: “What could have prevented this crash?” or better yet, “What are all the ways this crash could have been prevented?”

In this paper, we first explore a few common road crash investigation approaches where prosecution, retribution, or compensation are primary. We then examine investigation approaches where prevention is primary, especially investigations aimed at determining every point on the timeline preceding the crash where an intervention would have prevented the outcome, as illustrated by the Swiss Cheese Model. We draw from examples from the aviation industry, the occupational health and safety field, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and others, to identify strengths and weaknesses. We bring together good practices from several investigative approaches through the lens of diverse experiences in transportation safety and root-cause analysis to present a practical and proactive framework for road crash investigation. The Five “I” Framework provides guiding characteristics for prevention-focused safety investigations for road crashes: Immediate, In-Depth, Impartial, Independent, and Injury Prevention.

The Five “I” Framework is a practical guide for investigations to move beyond crash causation to crash prevention, aligning with the Safe Systems Approach, Vision Zero, and the public health perspective. Rather than focusing primarily on on any single factor such as vehicle defect or driver error, it leads investigations to an array of countermeasures that involve collective action and systems change, and thus, to more effective road safety reform. Nevertheless, as a practical framework, it is the start (not the end) of discussions on how we can continue to move towards more multidisciplinary, collaborative, innovative, and ethical prevention efforts.



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