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Arrow Innovations - Road Safety Audits

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Proactive tool boosts safety of roadway design and operations

RSA teams include individuals from various disciplines to evaluate the safety issues on a project.  The picture shows an RSA team that appears to include participants from engineering as well as enforcement fields providing their perspectives and engaging in a discussion.

Road safety audits (RSAs) have emerged in the United States as a proactive tool to improve the safety of roadway design, construction, and operations and reduce highway deaths and injuries. An RSA is an examination of the safety performance of a roadway or intersection by an independent, multidisciplinary team.

An RSA can be done while a project is in the planning stages or to identify safety issues on an existing roadway. Although an audit can be conducted at any time, it is most effective when done before a project is designed and built. It can help produce designs that may reduce the number and severity of crashes, promote awareness of safety design practices, and cut costs by identifying potential safety issues before construction.

Highway agencies have long used safety review processes, but RSAs have differences that can make them more effective. An RSA generally involves a multidisciplinary team who look only at safety issues and are not involved in a project's design or implementation. This allows them to be more objective and develop a more complete report on a roadway's safety problems.

The RSA process involves several steps, starting with identifying the project or existing area to study and building a team to conduct the audit. RSA teams, which typically have three to five members, draw participants from a variety of disciplines, including the highway safety, traffic engineering, planning, operations, geometric design, construction, maintenance, human factors, and enforcement fields.

The audit team reviews project information and performs field studies, often using prompt lists to make sure it considers all safety issues. The team looks at everything from whether traffic signals are operating properly and roadway barriers are installed correctly to whether bus stops are located where pedestrians can cross the street safely.

After analyzing its findings, the team prepares a report that includes suggestions for safety improvements. The final step is incorporating the findings into the project or existing roadway, when appropriate, and tracking the results of recommendations implemented.

Poor engineering design can be a safety issue. Picture shows a T-junction where a minor roadway joins a major roadway just a few yards past a busy intersection. This design caused several collisions between vehicles on the major roadway and those approaching the T–intersection. Also shown is a fairly large shoulder drop off that posed a safety concern. Roadway signs can alert drivers about approaching conditions. Photo shows a signage about the estimated time, 5 minutes, to reach a specific street, Rice street.

Several states—including Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia–have made the use of audits a standard approach. Three states have full–time RSA coordinators. RSAs are now included in Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) guidance as a proven safety countermeasures and RSAs have been included in the Final Rule for the Highway Safety Improvement Program (23 CRF 924.9) as a process for conducting engineering studies of locations to develop highway safety improvement projects.

Improve visibility of roadway signs. Picture shows a roadway speed limit sign with poor visibility as the sign is covered with an ivy growing over it. Also, the sign indicates that the roadway has a horizontal curve approaching.  This sign also has limited visibility. Potential safety hazard on roadway. Picture shows the gravel shoulder on a roadway abruptly reducing in width due to a culvert that could potentially be a safety concern for driving public.

Highway agencies have incorporated RSAs into their safety efforts in a variety of ways:

  • The New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) has integrated RSAs into its pavement overlay program.
  • The Iowa DOT conducts RSAs on its pavement rehabilitation, restoration, and resurfacing projects.
  • The Kansas and South Dakota DOTs use RSAs to enhance safety on existing roads.
  • The Nevada DOT conducts RSAs at the development stage.

Follow-up research shows that crashes and injuries decrease after safety audits are conducted and team recommendations are implemented. For example, the South Carolina DOT's audit of South Carolina 14 yielded nine suggestions to improve safety, all of which were implemented. Fatalities on the road dropped 60 percent from 2003 to 2004, avoiding more than $3.6 million in estimated potential economic losses.

FHWA offers training and technical assistance to help states and localities implement RSA programs, including a 2-day training course on how to conduct audits and a peer-to-peer program to help agencies get answers to technical questions on conducting audits.

For More Information


Rebecca Crowe
FHWA RSA Program Manager
400 North 8th Street, Suite 750
Richmond, Virginia 23219

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Rebecca Crowe
Road Safety Audits

Updated: 10/19/2015

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration