Roadway Safety Policy
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximatelyu 35,000 people die and nearly three million are injured each year on America’s roadways. The U.S. Department of Transportation indicates that poor road conditions and obsolete road designs are a factor in about 14,000 highway deaths each year. Americans tolerate this carnage under the misimpression that it is unavoidable. That is not true. Prioritizing investments in improved roadway design, construction and operation can save thousands of lives every year.
This is a public health crisis that demands a new paradigm. One key factor jeopardizing travellers is the inadequate capacity in our basic roadway infrastructure. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1982, the U.S. population has grown 24 percent. During that same period, vehicle miles of travel rose by 74 percent; yet, total U.S. road capacity has increased by only 6 percent. More cars crowded together on roadways frustrate drivers into shortening following distances and adopting more aggressive driving styles.
Demographic factors suggest that roadway safety challenges will mount dramatically in coming years unless officials at all levels of government are able to take dramatic action to reverse current trends. The U.S. Administration on Aging estimates that the number of older drivers in the U.S. will double between the years 2000 and 2030-one in five Americans will be age 65 or older. While elderly people safely use the nation’s roadways every day, studies indicate clearly that physiological changes related to aging (e.g., declining vision, physical fitness, etc.) make these highway users much more vulnerable to injury in a crash. To allow this growing segment of the population to travel safer and longer, the Federal Highway Administration has published a list of guidelines and recommendations for roadway safety improvements that would better accommodate the needs of older drivers.
Providing a safer roadway system for all Americans must be a top public policy priority. ARTBA members are committed to a goal of developing a “zero-fatality” roadway infrastructure environment.
“Vision Zero” Policy Premise
ARTBA operates from the premise that users will always make errors. Distractions, impairments, drowsiness and other factors will lead to driver mistakes. Design, construction and operation of the transportation network should emanate from this premise, allowing for the development of a more “forgiving” roadway system.
This requires a new paradigm. America’s basic road safety strategy today is aimed at reducing human error. Most federal efforts focus on reducing the number of crashes by improving motorists’ behavior. ARTBA turns that premise around by accepting the fact that some motorists will inevitably make mistakes. They pay for their mistakes with their lives – or the lives of innocent victims in other vehicles.
On all major routes-and others to the extent practicable-our roadway system must anticipate user error and be designed, constructed, equipped, and operated to forgive the errant user.
Severity vs. Frequency
In conjunction with reducing fatalities, ARTBA believes our transportation system must be improved to reduce the severity of incidents. In some situations (such as the use of roundabouts), a possible increased rate in the frequency of accidents is a viable trade-off for a decrease in the severity of injuries. We need to prioritize the quality of human life and health above the rate of traffic incidents.
ARTBA’s policy does not remove responsibility from the system user to operate his or her vehicle in a safe and courteous manner. All transportation users have an obligation to follow laws, standards and customs that promote safe and efficient use of the system. At the same time, funds must be provided in order to give system owners greater opportunity and the ability to properly operate their systems.
To date, U.S. policy accepts the fact that we have an imperfect system and we try to reduce the unsafe consequences of that system. ARTBA’s safety goal is developing a transportation system that contains zero predictable crashes with severe consequences, beginning with the major networks and following with all other roadways to the extent practicable.
The ARTBA’s vision requires a paradigm shift on two parallel tracks:
- The focus of reducing incidents on America’s transportation system must be viewed a reducing severity of injuries as opposed to reducing the number of crashes.
- The policy anticipates user errors and emphasizes design, construction and maintenance of a system that will be “forgiving” of errant behavior.
This change in philosophy is warranted because system users do not have all the relevant information necessary to make critical decisions related to their safety and the safety of other users. For example, drivers are repeatedly reminded: “speed kills,” but that problem is not just speed but kinetic energy. Kinetic energy causes the damage in a collision or a crash, yet users are blind to it. Users tend to feel safe when they shouldn’t. If the transportation system looked dangerous-and hazards were visible in a manner which users could appreciate-reliance on improved user behavior would be warranted. The design and operation of America’s transportation system must compensate for this information gap and systematically seek to eliminate such invisible hazards.
Using its division and federation structure, which uniquely represents the spectrum of organizations and individuals involved in transportation construction, maintenance and operations, ARTBA will endeavor to improve roadway safety through involvement in legislative, regulatory, industry, and consensus processes, including:
- Monitoring and analyzing conditions that could substantially affect the design and function of the U.S. road network;
- Engaging in a dialogue between government, private sector businesses and academia to apply systematic corrective procedures to prevent road accidents that result in death or serious injury;
- Cooperating with other organizations (public and private) and individuals to improve safety on the transportation network;
- Initiating research and development within the transportation construction sector and monitoring research on the importance to safe transportation network operations.
While the zero-fatality approach may take years to achieve, there are several focus areas:
- Improving roadway work zone safety for all roadway users through public information, materials development, use of high-quality temporary traffic control devices, promoting unit bid pricing for providing, installing, moving, replacing, and maintaining traffic control devices and safety systems, increasing use of positive protective measures between motorists and workers, and for the provision of law enforcement, and ensuring proper deployment of workers, work zone safety equipment, technologies and strategies;
- Supporting continuation of categorical funding for safety construction, such as the Highway Safety Improvement Program and Rail-Highway Grade Crossing programs;
- Encouraging roadway owners, designers, constructors, and other industry employers to make worker safety a high priority within their individual firms;
- Developing, distributing, and providing safety and health training and education materials to assist industry members with their statutory obligations to provide a work place that is safe from recognizable and preventable hazards.
- Designing and operating roadways to meet the needs of older drivers, particularly by considering the current recommendations and guidelines in the Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians;”
- Increasing funding levels of safety research programs and promoting development and implementation of new technologies that will significantly reduce the number and severity of crashes in a cost-effective manner;
- Using road safety audits to identify high hazard locations, and increased funding for the development and implementation of affordable and effective safety interventions;
- Advocating increased funding at all government levels to improve the design, construction, maintenance and safety-conscious operations of new and existing transportation infrastructure;
- Improving the quality of infrastructure design, construction, maintenance and operations in order to provide the highest possible roadway safety conditions on a timely, cost-effective basis;
- Creating a federal program to dedicate funds for safety improvements on hazardous two-lane, rural and/or low-volume roadways;
- Improving procedures and processes for collecting, organizing, tabulating, analyzing and disseminating data regarding the safe and efficient operation of the transportation network;
- Assisting ARTBA members, network owners and operators to educate personnel and implement safe construction, operation and maintenance procedures to reduce the potential for tort liability;
- Funding research and information dissemination on the safe transport of hazardous materials;
- Encouraging uniformity and quality in the design, testing and deployment of traffic control devices.
- Increasing the funding levels for Congestion Relief to significantly reduce the number of bottlenecks on our nation’s congested corridors by adding new capacity, making more efficient use of existing transportation facilities and by utilizing new technologies, through the use managed lanes, reversible, contraflow lanes, moveable medians, HOV and special use lanes.
- Advocating federal funding for a Roadway Safety Hardware Asset Management System wherein states would be required to survey and identify currently installed highway safety hardware on the National Highway System and develop an implementation plan for updating the system’s safety hardware to meet currently accepted standards.
- Advocating the enactment of national and state performance standards for highway safety programs and, in order to ensure accountability toward achieving results, encouraging that states be required to obligate additional available Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funds where state highway safety targets have not been met.
- Encouraging the increased use of- and funding for Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technologies to improve safety and relieve congestion, including variable messaging signs, traffic signal priority systems, real-time information systems, and the application of vehicle to infrastructure connectivity under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s IntelliDrive program.
(Approved September 2005)
(Revised October 2010)