U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
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Issues. A Road Safety Audit (RSA) is a formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent audit team. It qualitatively estimates and reports on potential road safety issues and identifies opportunities for improvements in safety for all road users. RSAs are an effective way to obtain an independent opinion about safety needs for an intersection, corridor, or network. Safety audits are often used in one of two ways—either to parallel the design process to suggest potential design revisions, or at a location with a safety concern to identify alternative solutions (before a design project is initiated).
Although RSAs have gained popularity in some regions, their acceptance varies and their use is still not uniform. Furthermore, some areas may lack personnel with the training or qualifications necessary to perform a safety audit. Another common problem with these audits is that suggested changes may or may not be implemented by the responsible agency.
Other perceived problems are that the specific safety effectiveness (crash reductions) of RSAs has not been defined and/or documented; FHWA has recently developed an RSA guidebook, online software, and a training course. However, having enough trained personnel to perform audits will be crucial, especially engineers who can identify creative low-cost solutions. And finally, the agency responsible for the intersection needs to have a plan for implementing the suggestions given by the intersection audit team.
The purpose of a comprehensive traffic records system is to ensure that complete, accurate and timely traffic safety data are collected, analyzed, and made available for decision making at the national, state, and local levels to reduce crashes, deaths and injuries on our nation’s highways. NHTSA does this through its Section 408 program, which distributes grants to states through its Traffic Safety Information System Improvements Program.
To identify areas that need improvement as well as to be able to measure improvement in safety, reliable crash data is necessary. Engineers need to have timely access to the crash data.
For traffic engineers to be able use data collected from a police crash report, the information must have six characteristics of “quality” attached to it, as follows:
Issues. Intersection design standards, guidelines, policies, and practices (e.g., signing, turn-lane lengths, lighting, etc.) may not adequately incorporate the current knowledge on the safety performance of different intersection designs, traffic control devices, and other countermeasures. Furthermore, design standards, guidelines, policies, and practices are likely based on safety, as well as cost, capacity, and driver comfort. This means that simply attaining minimum values do not guarantee a “safe” design. With growing information about transportation safety, including vehicle performance, driver behavior, access management, and countermeasure effectiveness, it is important to ensure that design standards, guidelines, policies, and practices accurately reflect the state of current knowledge.
Not only does this information need to be incorporated at the national level, but it must be shared with all levels of highway agencies if the resulting changes are to be effectively and widely implemented. This leads to a need for an education program to share updates with the engineering community.
Issues. The safety issues faced at intersections are multi-faceted, with potential variations in the users (drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists), traffic control type (signalized and unsignalized), location (rural or urban), jurisdiction (state or local) and functional class (high-volume arterial or low-volume local road). Furthermore, an equally wide variety in driver behavior (speeding, inattentiveness, failure to yield) and demographics (teen drivers, elderly drivers, children walking or biking to school) can be contributing factors to intersection crashes.
With all these factors, it is clear that no one agency, group or countermeasure will be able to solve all intersection safety problems. This leads to the recognition that the multidisciplinary 4E approach is best able to address all aspects of the intersection safety problem.
The key to resolving the multifaceted intersection safety problem begins with an approach that encourages cooperation and coordination among the four Es – education, emergency medical services, enforcement, and engineering. Regular meetings involving all disciplines in traffic safety will encourage the sharing of information, plans, and possibly even resources. Ideally, this approach will occur at all levels of government—local, state, and national. While states used an integrated approach to develop their strategic highway safety plans, an important key is to continue the interaction through implementation and evaluation.
Issues. The 2007 FARS data reveal that 8,657 fatalities, out of the 41,059 total fatalities across the nation, occurred at intersections. Yet, there is a lack of awareness by the traveling public and elected officials regarding the actual risks that accompany negotiating intersections, which often represent the most complex areas in the transportation system. Redefining intersection safety as a public health problem and a quality of life issue is necessary to change the mindset of the public. In doing so, the public can help provide the grass-roots support needed to fund and implement intersection safety programs, especially programs that may be currently controversial in some communities.
Agencies should consider a variety of material and techniques to communicate the problem to the public and elected officials, with the objective of increasing their awareness and changing their perceptions about intersection safety. Educational messages may be provided in print, broadcast on radio or TV media, or through local presentations to community groups and schools. Marketing intersection safety should also extend to other road users, such as pedestrians and bicyclists. School children and the seniors should be targeted, because they may have higher risks when navigating an intersection as a pedestrian or bicyclist.
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