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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 61· No. 2 > Road Safety Audits: Scanning for "Gold" Down Under|
Road Safety Audits: Scanning for "Gold" Down Under
by Michael F. Trentacoste
For more than 100 years, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and its predecessors have recognized that the United States is not the source of every good idea -- that there is much to be learned from observing the way other countries solve their highway-related problems.
Therefore, throughout its history, FHWA has been actively involved in technology and information exchange by sharing American "know-how" and by going to observe, or "scan," how other nations do things. FHWA knows that no matter who first discovers the "gold mine," there are real advantages to sharing the "wealth."
So, for two weeks in late October 1996, a scanning team visited Australia and New Zealand to review the road safety audit process in those countries. The scanning team, sponsored by FHWA, included state, local, FHWA, and academic representatives.
The road safety audit is a process in which a team of experts attempts to identify potentially dangerous features of the highway operating environment. The process is also applicable to existing highway facilities.
The team's conclusion was that road safety audits hold promise for maximizing the safety of roadway design and operations and should, as a minimum, be piloted in the United States.
Road Safety Audits in Australia and New Zealand
A safety audit can be done during the detailed design phase of project development. If a problem is identified, it is easier for a designer working on a computer to erase a line than to move concrete during or after construction is completed.
The Road Safety Audit manual of Austroads -- Australia and New Zealand's equivalent of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) -- defines a roadway safety audit as "a formal examination of an existing or future road or traffic project, or any project which interacts with road users, in which an independent, qualified examiner reports on the project's accident potential and safety performance."
The first roadway safety audits were part of a comprehensive accident reduction program. The aim was, and still is, to proactively identify potential safety problems to prevent the occurrence of crashes or to lessen crash severity should a crash occur.
Audits are an essential component of an overall safety culture and management system in Australia and New Zealand that commits each person -- planner, designer, constructor, and operator -- to assume responsibility for his actions.
The scanning team repeatedly heard much about the relationship of roadway safety audits and quality improvement initiatives. In fact, audits were viewed as an integral part of the quality program. Audits were used both as a measure of the integration of safety during the various project stages and as a means for building safety into road projects by eliminating unsafe conditions.
Three members of the U.S. scanning team - from left, Mike Trentacoste, David Manning, and James Shanafelt - participate in an actual field review.
Road safety audits are concerned with the safety of all road users -- motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists -- and are sometimes performed during all stages of a project, regardless of size or type. The audit stages are: feasibility, draft design, detailed design, pre-opening, and post-opening/existing roadway.
The importance of conducting audits in the feasibility and early design stages was a recurring theme heard by the group.
"It is easier, quicker, and cheaper to change a pencil line on a drawing than to move concrete and asphalt after the job is built," the Austroads manual so aptly explains.
In both Australia and New Zealand, the cost of performing the audit was seen as an extremely minimal expense in comparison to the benefits received. For small projects, such as an analysis of an intersection, it costs only a few thousand dollars to review the background information, make a site visit, and produce a report. For large projects, the increases in cost to the overall project to conduct the recommended reviews at the feasibility, draft design, final design, and pre-opening stages are small, and sometimes the reviews result in changes that actually reduce project costs. Although Australia and New Zealand -- and the United Kingdom also -- are still quantifying the benefits of audits, the total long-term benefit in reduced crashes was deemed to be many times the cost.
As a matter of fact, the mindset of officials in Australia and New Zealand is that safety audits are essential parts of a good design process. Thus, safety audits are a necessary cost, not an additional expense.
The Scanning Team Evaluation
The scanning team's report on the trip will be published within the next several months. It will discuss a broad range of issues related to roadway safety audits, including the critical success factors:
To some on the team, the term "audit" has negative implications because it may seem to indicate that the aim is to catch someone making an error. To others, the term conveys the independence of the activity. The team decided that the title of the process is really not the significant issue. What is important is the desire and resolve of all parties to implement all the elements of the process to prevent the construction of a roadway that compromises safety.
Very few highways are built to optimal safety design; resources, land, community disturbance, and other constraints do not allow it. However, the safety audit requires the full consideration of safety issues just as the environmental impact statement requires a full review of environmental factors.
FHWA's Office of Highway Safety will solicit states this year to pilot the road safety audit program in 1998. A workshop will be held in late 1997 or early 1998 for participating states and industry partners. The training of auditors will be provided, if necessary, prior to the pilots. The operational implementation of the road safety audits by the pilot states will be assessed. The Office of Highway Safety will sponsor the evaluation in coordination with the other partners.
In the United States over the next decade, hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent by cities, states, and the federal government to rebuild our infrastructure. Safety is always identified as a top priority in programming, designing, and constructing highway projects. The road safety audit process has significant potential to ensure that quality design and safe operations are the top priorities in all stages of those projects.
Michael F. Trentacoste is the director of FHWA's Office of Highway Safety. Previously, he held several top positions with the Office of Motor Carriers, including director of planning and customer liaison, director of field operations, and director of motor carrier standards. He has also worked in the Federal Railroad Administration and the Office of the Secretary of Transportation. He has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Manhattan College and a master's degree in transportation from Northwestern University. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a registered professional engineer in the state of New York.
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