Searching for causal effects of road traffic safety interventions : applications of the interrupted time series design

Abstract: Traffic-related injuries represent a global public health problem, and contribute largely to mortality and years lived with disability worldwide. Over the course of the last decades, improvements to road traffic safety and injury surveillance systems have resulted in a shift in focus from the prevention of motor vehicle accidents to the control of injury events involving vulnerable road users (VRUs), such as cyclists and moped riders. There have been calls for improvements to the evaluation of safety interventions due to methodological problems associated with the most commonly used study designs. The purpose of this licentiate thesis was to assess the strengths and limitations of the interrupted time series (ITS) design, which has gained some attention for its ability to provide valid effect estimates. Two national road safety interventions involving VRUs were selected as cases: the Swedish bicycle helmet law for children under the age 15, and the tightening of licensing rules for Class 1 mopeds. The empirical results suggest that both interventions were effective in improving the safety of VRUs. Unless other concurrent events affect the treatment population at the exact time of intervention, the effect estimates should be internally valid. One of the main limitations of the study design is the inability to identify why the interventions were successful, especially if they are complex and multifaceted. A lack of reliable exposure data can also pose a further threat to studies of interventions involving VRUs if the intervention can affect the exposure itself. It may also be difficult to generalize the exact effect estimates to other regions and populations. Future studies should consider the use of the ITS design to enhance the internal validity of before-after measurements.

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