Road Safety Audits Help Agencies Target Potential Dangers

October 09, 2006

The growing number of transportation options and users is accompanied by an increased potential for accidents. Some local, state, and federal agencies have started to conduct road safety audits (RSAs) to help improve safety by targeting potential dangers. RSAs are one of the outcomes of the industry’s attempt at making safety processes more objective and quantifiable.

An RSA is a formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent audit team. It differs from a traditional road safety review in that it is proactive and involves an independent team rather than operating as a reactive, in-house measure. This team brings together experts in the areas of roadway design, traffic operation, and safety, sometimes including police services and pedestrian and bicycle advocates.

RSAs improve roadway safety because they help identify safety issues that collision reports rarely highlight. In addition, RSAs anticipate and accommodate common driver errors often overlooked during design. And, it’s easier to design and build safer roads than to modify some driver behaviors, says Jack Freeman, Senior Principal in KAI’s Orlando office.

“RSAs can be done at any stage of a project’s life cycle, whether it’s during the planning and design or after a project has been completed,” Freeman says. “Audits can be done for roads that have been open for some time but have issues that need to be resolved.”

A growing awareness of safety for all road users, the variety of transportation modes, and the number and diversity of users have prompted an increased demand for RSAs.

“The expectation of being able to share the road is increasing, and we need to be able to accommodate a diverse group of users that includes not only vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians, but also the disabled, the elderly, and others,” Freeman says.

The audits present a chance to bring together multiple stakeholders, from owners to road design professionals to those who specialize in safety and traffic operations. Engineers work closely with the owner to determine their objectives and what they want to accomplish—the owner essentially sets the plan. The collaborative process presents a host of opportunities for the audit team to bring in people with different areas of expertise.

“The main goal is to take a look at the safety of a project with all of the stakeholders there and say, ‘These are the things you can do to improve safety,’” Freeman adds.

Lee County, Florida, recently conducted an RSA for a road segment in an area that has experienced population growth and an accompanying increase in traffic. Excessive vehicle speed is among the issues along the roadway, which narrows from six lanes to two, with a turn lane and signalized and non-signalized intersections.

Several short-term solutions to reduce vehicle speeds, such as additional signage and improving sight lines, have been implemented. It is too soon to fully assess the results of the RSA, but it’s clear that this initial audit helped county transportation department managers recognize the value of conducting RSAs along new and existing roads, said Harry Campbell, chief traffic engineer with the Lee County Department of Transportation.

He added that there is recognition within his agency that RSAs need to be conducted when designs are 30 percent complete to avoid impacting the permitting process.

Campbell praised the collective RSA process and noted that participants are now champions of it too, “When you pull a team together ideas tend to flow and you have a better outcome.”

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