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Estimating the Benefits of Reducing the Risk of Recreational Boating Accidents: Alternative Sources of Information on Fatalities, Injuries, and Property Damages 

02-09-2020 08:12 AM

The U.S. Coast Guard requires data on the consequences of recreational boating accidents, so that it can compare the costs of alternative regulations, policies, and programs to their benefits. In particular, information on the number and characteristics of fatal and nonfatal injuries, and on property damages, is needed for accidents that differ in cause, in the type of vessel involved, and in operator and passenger characteristics. In addition, for comparison to costs, benefits must be valued in monetary terms, which requires information on the value of reducing the risks of injuries of different types.

In this report, we review previous research, evaluate alternative data sources, and explore the implications of these alternative data for estimating the benefits of Coast Guard regulations and policies. We focus on (1) the number and types of fatal and nonfatal injuries associated with recreational boating accidents nationally; (2) the per-case monetary value of these injuries; and (3) the economic costs of accident-related property damages nationally. While we are primarily concerned with the use of these data for benefit-cost analysis of potential regulations, our findings may also be useful for prioritizing non-regulatory programs and initiatives. This report also supports Strategy 10.6 of the Strategic Plan of the National Recreational Boating Safety Program, which focuses on gathering existing data and conducting new research to fill gaps in Coast Guard’s Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) and to address under-reporting.

Our research suggests that the information collected by Coast Guard is the most comprehensive source of these data available. Neither academic research studies nor reports from other governmental or nongovernmental organizations provide detailed national data on recreational boating accidents. Thus the question we explore is whether we can use data collected for other purposes to provide some insights into the accuracy and reliability of the BARD data, which are collected by Coast Guard from boat operators involved in reportable accidents.
Our work builds on several other Coast Guard efforts to better understand the limitations of available data and to determine how to best address these limitations. Our findings are reasonably consistent with the results of these previous efforts, but provide information on recent trends as well as additional insights. For fatal injuries, we find that the Coast Guard’s data on incidence appears reasonably accurate. To value these fatalities, Coast Guard follows a well-established approach. These values are based on estimates of individual willingness to pay (WTP) for small risk reductions in a defined time period, which is the most appropriate measure for use in benefit-cost analysis.

For nonfatal injuries, our work, as well as previous research, suggests underreporting of incidence increases as severity decreases. Injuries severe enough to result in hospitalization are underreported by less than a factor of two. Less severe injuries may be underreported by much larger amounts. Monetary valuation of these injuries is challenging, because suitable estimates of individual WTP are not available for nonfatal injury risk reductions. Instead, government agencies and researchers often rely on one of two approaches as rough proxies. The first, used by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), combines estimates of averted costs with estimates of quality of life impacts (generally reported as quality-adjusted life years or QALYs). The second relies solely on estimates of averted medical costs and lost productivity. This latter approach results in much lower per-case estimates because it excludes some types of averted costs and does not include monetized QALYs. However, the appropriate construction of the QALY measure and its monetary value has been debated in recent years.
For property damages, we were unable to locate an alternative, comprehensive source of information that is easily accessible. Previous analyses suggest that these damages, as well as the total number of boating accidents overall, may be substantially underreported.

In total, these findings mean that Coast Guard faces a number of challenges when assessing the benefits of its regulations and policies. In general, our analysis suggests that the numbers of nonfatal injuries and the amount of property damages may be significantly understated. In addition, determining the value of nonfatal risk reductions is difficult given the data now available. Fatality estimates are less prone to uncertainty.

Coast Guard has a number of options for addressing these uncertainties. The simplest approach would be to develop standard language to qualitatively discuss the impact of these concerns on the results of its analysis. Approaches requiring a moderate amount of additional effort involve refining currently available data to provide quantitative estimates of incidence and dollar values that can be used as primary estimates or in sensitivity analysis. Coast Guard could also undertake new research, which would require substantially greater effort but would result in estimates better tailored to its analytic needs.
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