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Capture-recapture: a useful methodological tool for counting traffic related injuries?
  1. A Morrison,
  2. D H Stone
  1. PEACH Unit, Department of Child Health, Glasgow University, Yorkhill Hospital, Glasgow G3 8SJ, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 David Stone


Introduction—Although the capture-recapture technique is increasingly employed in studies of human populations to correct for under-ascertainment in traditional epidemiological surveillance, it has rarely been used in injury research.

Objectives—To estimate the completeness of official data sources on traffic related injuries (TRIs) by using the capture-recapture technique and to calculate an ascertainment corrected number of fatal and serious TRIs among Scottish young people aged 15–24 years. The appropriateness of the approach in this context is also assessed.

Method—A two sample capture-recapture technique was applied to two official sources of TRI data. Data on TRIs were obtained from the Scottish Health Service and the STATS19 dataset at the University of Essex Data Archive for 1995. Four standards (A-D) of matching were applied to fatalities and serious TRIs to allow plausible relaxation of matching standards within the context of the data collection setting. The completeness of each data source was assessed, and an ascertainment corrected number of fatalities and serious TRIs calculated.

Results—The ascertainment corrected number of TRI fatalities among 15–24 year olds using standard D was 104. This represents only a small increase in the number of fatalities using capture-recapture than when using each individual dataset. The completeness of the Scottish Health Service database for TRI fatalities was 93%. The STATS19 database was 95% complete. The ascertainment corrected number of TRI hospital admissions was 1969. The STATS19 and the Scottish Health Service databases were approximately two thirds and three quarters complete respectively for non-fatal TRIs requiring hospitalisation.

Conclusions—Injury researchers have advocated the linkage of major datasets to supplement and improve the quality of injury data. Using capture-recapture we found that routine databases enumerate TRI fatalities accurately, in contrast to injury morbidity databases that do not. Capture-recapture is a potentially useful method of evaluating the completeness of data sources and identifying biases within datasets. However, ascertainment corrected rates should be viewed with caution. A number of requirements of the capture-recapture technique are unachieved in this study of injury in the human population.

  • capture-recapture
  • young people
  • epidemiology

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