Road safety audits for local agencies
Interested in locating and correcting safety problems on your streets or roads before they occur? A road safety audit (RSA) can help.
An independent team of trained specialists conducts the RSA. Through one or more ﬁeld reviews, the team assesses the potential for crashes and past safety performance of a roadway section. The team documents its observations and recommendations in a formal report. Agency managers can then evaluate, select, and justify any needed improvements.
Beneﬁts of RSAs
In addition to identifying and addressing potential safety problems at a low cost, RSAs provide several beneﬁts:
- They help reduce the potential number and severity of crashes.
- They increase agency staff awareness of safe design practices.
- They consider multi-modal and human factors issues.
How RSAs differ from safety reviews
- Safety reviews are usually conducted by in-house design staff. A road safety audit is conducted by an interdisciplinary team from outside the agency staff.
- A safety review might primarily consider compliance with established standards and past crash history. An RSA considers human factors and multi-modal needs using a comprehensive check list.
- A safety review often provides a reactive approach. An RSA explores future potential for crashes, taking a more proactive approach.
Good candidates for RSAs
For new construction, project characteristics that could beneﬁt from an RSA include
- a complex design with high cost
- new or unusual features
- several interacting modes
- a high public or political proﬁle
- a context sensitive design
For existing roads and streets, good candidates for an RSA may be those with
- a poor safety performance record
- high public or political interest
- trafﬁc conditions that have changed
Even a simple 3R project can beneﬁt from a safety analysis as part of the design process. For these or any existing road or street, features to review would include
- signs and pavement markings
- sight distance, especially at intersections
- pavement defects including skid resistance
- delineation and lighting needs
- clear zone obstacles
- shoulder conditions
In urban areas, features would include the safe location of bus stops, pedestrian and bicyclist concerns, and access management.
Who conducts the RSA
For large projects, the road safety analysis team may consist of several members with expertise in trafﬁc safety, geometric design, and trafﬁc operations. Other members may include human factors experts, special user advocates such as bicyclists and pedestrians, law enforcement ofﬁcers, and maintenance staff.
For smaller improvements such as 3R projects, a single experienced individual can provide the needed expertise. Jack Latterell, retired FHWA safety engineer, assists the Iowa DOT with comprehensive safety analysis and can do the same for local agencies.
For an Iowa 3R project, a typical team might include
- the Iowa DOT Ofﬁce of Trafﬁc and Safety
- ﬁeld staff from the Iowa DOT district ofﬁce including the assistant district engineer, design staff, and possibly maintenance staff
- experts from CTRE for crash analysis advice
- consultant Jack Latterell
Agency concerns about RSAs
Local agencies may be concerned about the following potential drawbacks of conduct-ing road safety audits:
Project development delay
Delay is minimal. The audit process can be worked into the regular development process. From start-up to submission of the ﬁnal report, a standard road safety audit requires about one to three weeks to complete.
Increased project costs
RSA team proposals should be kept in context with the project scope and focus primarily on low cost improvements. Any signiﬁcant cost changes can be discussed with project managers prior to issuance of the ﬁnal report. It's up to project managers to select or defer any changes.
In addition, it is generally less costly to make needed changes in project plans than to modify a new improvement after construction is completed.
Potential increased liability exposure
A properly conducted and documented RSA should not result in additional liability exposure for an agency. In fact RSAs may actually reduce potential tort claim exposure by demonstrating a proactive approach to safety. However, managers may want to discuss liability implications with agency attorneys before undertaking a road safety audit.
Identifying and documenting safety issues on a road or street is not an admission of guilt. Rather, this initiative is part of a management process to improve safety within a jurisdiction. Using accepted risk management techniques, safety concerns can be prioritized and addressed as funding becomes available.
For more information
For more information about road safety audits, visit www.roadwaysafetyaudits.org, a web site developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Other information and training opportunities are avail-able from the National Highway Institute or by contacting Tom McDonald at CTRE, firstname.lastname@example.org, 515-294-6384.