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Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
February 1, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

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Institute of Transportation Engineers Published Report on Road Safety Audits

In 1994, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) responded to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Highway Safety Program Guidelines by recommending U.S. "agencies should introduce the concept of road safety audit into their systems." In an effort to prevent crashes on new or existing roads, some countries are already using the road safety audit process, defined as:

a formal examination of an existing or future road or traffic project, or any project that interacts with road users, in which an independent, qualified examiner looks at the project's accident potential and safety performance.

To develop a report on current use and future potential of road safety audits, the ITE established an international committee headed by Kenneth W. Ogden. Ogden holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Monash University in Melbourne and is the head of the Monash Transport Group in the Department of Civil Engineering at Monash University. A summary of the committee's report appeared in the February 1995 issue (Volume 65, Number 2) of the ITE Journal. Written by members of the ITE's committee on road safety audits, the article was entitled "Road Safety Audit: A New Tool for Accident Prevention."

Why Road Safety Audits?
Traditional engineering solutions to highway safety problems focused on crash reduction--developing corrective measures for sites where crashes happened frequently. The article suggested that political pressure has prompted a move toward crash prevention--designing safer new roads and identifying and modifying existing roads before crash statistics revealed a problem. Road safety audits can be key processes in crash prevention.

Road safety audits foster safer road projects in two ways: (1) promoting elimination or mitigation of safety hazards (such as dangerous intersection layouts) during the planning and design stages of roadway construction and (2) encouraging incorporation of crash-reducing features (such as traffic control devices, delineation, and guardrails).

According to the article, safety audits should:

  • Minimize the risk and severity of road crashes that may be affected by the road project at the site or on the nearby network.
  • Minimize the need for remedial works after construction. Reduce the whole-of-life costs of the project.
  • Improve the awareness of safe design practices by everyone involved in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of roads.
  • International Perspective
    Road safety audits are becoming a separate component of highway safety efforts in countries around the world.

    United Kingdom -- As part of a Department of Transportation goal to reduce highway casualties one-third by the year 2000, mainland Britain passed legislation requiring action. Results have included publication of codes and guidelines and, since 1991, mandated safety audits for all United Kingdom national trunk roads and freeways.

    Australia -- Austroads, Australia's national association of traffic and road agencies, had begun work on guidelines for a national road safety audit program. Throughout the country, the states were at different points in developing safety audits. New South Wales was auditing 20 percent of existing roads each year, and the State of Victoria audited all major construction projects, 20 percent of other projects, and 10 percent of maintenance work.

    Australia had written guidelines for safety audits of existing roads. They recommended a one-stage detailed inspection of short lengths of roadway (under 19 miles). For longer sections, a two-stage audit would first include assessment of major problems and then detailed inspection of problem areas.

    New Zealand -- Beginning with a pilot program in 1992, New Zealand moved into mandatory safety audits for 20 percent of state highway projects in 1993.

    United States -- While no formal program existed in the U.S. for implementing road safety audits, the FHWA's "Management Approach to Highway Safety: A Compilation of Good Practices" (1991) called for "identifying, investigating, setting priorities and correcting hazardous or potentially hazardous situations" and encouraged having a process to incorporate safety considerations into highway construction projects.

    Conducting Road Safety Audits
    Road construction projects involve five stages; safety audits are appropriate during any or all of these stages.

    Feasibility -- According to the article, information from a safety audit during the feasibility study for a project may affect such factors as: "the scope of a project, route choice, selection of design standard, impact on the existing road network, route continuity, provision of interchanges or intersections, access control, number of lanes, route terminals, stage development, and more."

    Layout or Preliminary Design -- An audit completed during this stage of road construction might consider: "horizontal and vertical alignment, sightlines, intersection layouts, land and shoulder width, pavement crossfall and superelevation, overtaking lanes, provision for parked and stationary vehicles, provision for cyclists and pedestrians, effects of departures from standards and guidelines, safety during construction, and so on."

    Detailed Design -- At this stage, before preparation of contract documents, a road safety audit would look at: "line markings, signing, delineation, lighting, intersection details, clearances to roadside objects, provision for road user groups with special requirements (for instance, pedestrians, cyclists, people with disabilities, trucks and buses), temporary traffic management and control during construction, drainage, poles and other roadside objects, landscaping, batters [slopes] and guard fencing."

    Preopening -- At this stage, the audit team would walk or drive through a project to check on the quality of completed safety features. They would inspect many of the same items as were considered during the design process, and they would try to be at the project during different conditions--day and night, wet and dry, etc.

    In-service -- This type of audit is appropriate for new construction and for existing roads. The team systematically identifies weaknesses in the functioning of safety features while the road is open to motorists.

    The Road Safety Audit Process
    To avoid the perception that safety audits reflect a lack of faith in the competence of a project's designers and engineers, the agency's program should make safety audits integral to the construction process. Where audits define safety as a separate consideration in roadway construction, attention to safety features increases. The authors argued that this attention to safety would reduce the total cost of a project by promoting timely alterations to construction plans and would lower costs associated with finished roadways by decreasing the number of crashes and reducing litigation.

    The specialists comprising a road safety audit team may come entirely from outside the agency, partly from outside, or completely from inside. British three-person safety audit teams generally include: (1) a road safety engineering specialist with expertise in crash investigation, (2) a highway design engineer, and (3) a person experienced in the safety audit procedure. Specialists in various areas join the team during certain audit stages; e.g., the engineer who will have maintenance responsibility for the road would be involved in a preopening audit.

    Whatever the composition of the team, article authors listed six key factors to consider in adopting an audit method:

  • The audit team must include specialist knowledge of safety engineering.
  • The findings of the audit should be documented and reported formally at each stage of the audit process.
  • The reasons for various elements of audit advice should be documented formally.
  • The reasons for rejecting any element of advice should be explained to the scheme designer.
  • Provisions for arbitration should be made.
  • Independence of audit must be maintained, and there should be an awareness of possible litigation if there are subsequent failures.
  • To help team members remember the myriad items to check during a road safety audit, the article recommended using checklists or prompts. Computerized representative checklists are available; however, the authors reminded the reader that no checklist is a substitute for expertise and audits should always include on-site visits as well as plan review. An integral part of the audit is monitoring and evaluating the process itself. Auditors should monitor the effectiveness of procedures and checklists and keep track of costs and benefits.

    Agencies were only beginning to systematically use road safety audits; therefore, data on cost effectiveness was scarce. The United Kingdom had projected that "one-third of accidents have the potential for removal by safety audit." Scotland computed that preventing 1 percent of crashes per year would save about $1.5 million (in U.S. dollars) annually.

    Liability Issues
    At the time this article was written, Australian guidelines claimed, "No case involving road safety audit has yet come before a court." These guidelines contended, however, that previous litigation of highway cases had sought to encourage safety improvements; it follows, therefore, that the court will advocate road safety audits. The courts, however, seek results and not merely process. To the extent that road safety audits contribute to overall improvement of highway safety, agencies will reduce liability by conducting audits. Conversely, "[h]ighway authorities that fail to adopt safety audits or comparable processes run a higher risk that legal liability will be imposed."

    The authors concluded road safety audits can accomplish crash prevention by "get[ting] it right the first time." To be effective, audit team members must be independent, competent, and experienced persons who have received adequate training. In addition, people making decisions on carrying out audit findings must be accountable to do so properly. An effective audit will help agencies lower the total cost of road projects and reduce potential for expensive litigation.

    The complete ITE committee report on road safety audits is available from the ITE Bookstore. For more information, contact the Institute of Transportation Engineers at 525 School Street S.W., Suite 410, Washington, D.C. 20024-2797 or call (202) 554-8050.

    Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.

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