Text Mining to Decipher Free-Response Consumer Complaints Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVE: This study applies text mining to extract clusters of vehicle problems and associated trends from free-response data in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's vehicle owner's complaint database. BACKGROUND: As the automotive industry adopts new technologies, it is important to systematically assess the effect of these changes on traffic safety. Driving simulators, naturalistic driving data, and crash databases all contribute to a better understanding of how drivers respond to changing vehicle technology, but other approaches, such as automated analysis of incident reports, are needed. METHOD: Free-response data from incidents representing two severity levels (fatal incidents and incidents involving injury) were analyzed using a text mining approach: latent semantic analysis (LSA). LSA and hierarchical clustering identified clusters of complaints for each severity level, which were compared and analyzed across time. RESULTS: Cluster analysis identified eight clusters of fatal incidents and six clusters of incidents involving injury. Comparisons showed that although the airbag clusters across the two severity levels have the same most frequent terms, the circumstances around the incidents differ. The time trends show clear increases in complaints surrounding the Ford/Firestone tire recall and the Toyota unintended acceleration recall. Increases in complaints may be partially driven by these recall announcements and the associated media attention. CONCLUSION: Text mining can reveal useful information from free-response databases that would otherwise be prohibitively time-consuming and difficult to summarize manually. APPLICATION: Text mining can extend human analysis capabilities for large free-response databases to support earlier detection of problems and more timely safety interventions.

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Ghazizadeh, M., McDonald, A. D., & Lee, J. D.

citation count

  • 17

publication date

  • September 2014


  • Accidents, Traffic
  • Automobile Driving
  • Community Participation
  • Data Mining
  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Safety
  • United States
  • Wounds And Injuries