There's a new road safety tool making an impact across the nation - road safety audits. This is a program sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration. A road safety audit is the formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent, multidisciplinary team.
It qualitatively estimates and reports on potential road safety issues and identifies opportunities for improvements in safety for all road users. The FHWA works with state and local jurisdictions and tribal governments to integrate RSAs into the project development process for new roads and intersections, and also encourages RSAs on existing roads and intersections.
The aim of an RSA is to answer the following questions:
What elements of the road may present a safety concern: to what extent, to which road users, and under what circumstances?
What opportunities exist to eliminate or mitigate identified safety concerns?
Public agencies with a desire to improve the overall safety performance of roadways under their jurisdiction should be excited about the concept of RSAs. Road safety audits can be used in any phase of project development from planning and preliminary engineering, design and construction. RSAs can also be used on any sized project from minor intersection and roadway retrofits to mega-projects.
At a recent two-day workshop provided by the FHWA at state Department of Transportation Region 7 headquarters in Watertown, 26 persons received the necessary training to become involved in these road safety audits. The attendees included highway design, planning, traffic safety and mobility, and construction staff from state DOT, highway maintenance staff, law enforcement personnel, and the vice-chairman of the Franklin County Traffic Safety Board and author of the "Did You Know" articles on state vehicle and traffic law and traffic safety.
An important phase of the training included a field trip to a high-crash area near Watertown where teams of five performed a safety assessment. Their charge was to identify potential for crashes and to devise relatively quick and inexpensive methods to mitigate the high-crash rate. Each team then reported their findings and suggestions to the entire group, which then critiqued the findings.
Most state DOTs have established traditional safety review processes. However, a road safety audit and a traditional safety review are different processes. The traditional process is typically performed by a team with only design and/or safety expertise, often concentrates only on motorized vehicles, and often does not generate a formal report. An RSA is performed by a multi-disciplinary team independent of the design team, considers all road users and always generates a formal written report.
As Terecia Wilson, Director of Safety for South Carolina DOT said, "We view the RSAs as a proactive low-cost approach to improve safety. The RSAs helped our engineering team develop a number of solutions incorporating measures that were not originally included in the projects. The very first audit conducted saved SCDOT thousands of dollars by correcting a design problem."
For more articles on Vehicle and Traffic Law and traffic safety, visit the Traffic Safety Board's website at www.franklincony.org.
Dave Werner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.