What the heck is a Road Safety Audit?

Craig Allred (far right) with FHWA leads a field review as part of the Road Safety Audit workshop
Craig Allred (far right) with FHWA leads a field review as part of the Road Safety Audit workshop

A Road Safety Audit is done for one reason:  because a safety problem is suspected and it needs to be fixed.

Recently I attended a 2 day workshop on conducting Road Safety Audits (RSAs) taught by Craig Allred, an expert with the Federal Highway Administration.  An RSA is different from a traditional Traffic Safety Review, because it’s composed of a multi-disciplinary team designed to collaborate on a multi-modal safety solution.  Additionally, it attempts to systemically solve safety problems instead of simply chasing after fatality problems in reactive mode. According to Allred, FHWA is pushing a systemic approach, because “Proper design encourages proper use.”

An RSA is defined as a 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 aim is to answer these 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 have a tool with RSAs. They can be used in any phase of project development from planning and preliminary engineering, design and construction, and on any sized project from minor intersection and roadway retrofits to mega-projects.

There are 8 steps in conducting an RSA:

  1. Identify a project.
  2. Select an RSA team, with the convener as lead.
  3. Conduct a start up meeting.
  4. Perform field reviews.
  5. Conduct RSA analysis (all parties).
  6. Issue an RSA Formal Report.
  7. Issue a Response Letter (project owner does this – City, County, or SCDOT).
  8. Incorporate findings into changes on the roadway

Resources available to planners, city officials, or road users wishing to conduct RSAs are the following:

  1. Mr. Allred’s presentation, including an Introduction to Bike/Ped Safety Issues and RSA process overview and best practices
  2. This tool for helping define the problem (the federal Ped/Bike Crash Analysis Tool)
  3. Bicycle Safety Audit prompt lists and Pedestrian Safety Audit Guidelines and Prompt Lists
  4. List of pedestrian countermeasures (that solve problems),
  5. List of bicyclist countermeasures (that solve problems)
  6. Many other RSA resources can be found in the right-hand-column at this link hosted by the Federal Highway Administration, including a brochure, video, toolkit CD, case studies, general guidelines, and samples of an RSA database, reports, and policies.

See this article for the most basic review of the full RSA process, including a list of states using this now.

RSAs in South Carolina

RSAs were conducted in the past in South Carolina, and we contacted Brett Harrelson, SCDOT Traffic Safety Engineer for current information.  He stated they plan to continue using them, though now with consultant services. They will soon hire their consultant to do these safety assessments for statistically high crash locations and/or pattern based on the most recent statewide crash data.

In the past, SC determined that doing RSAs saved $60 for every $1 invested in the process in staff time, from reduced # of change orders.  In addition, RSA’s are conducted with a focus on risk management and reducing liability. The article mentions our state here:

SCDOT has conducted six RSAs since 2003. The results of these RSAs (two of them are described below) are now available, and while SCDOT officials acknowledge that the findings are preliminary, they believe that the numbers are promising. In the RSA of SC-14 in Greenville County, SC, nine safety improvements were suggested, and all were implemented. Fatalities on that highway were reduced by 60 percent from 2003 to 2004, avoiding more than $3.6 million in estimated potential economic losses. In Spartanburg County, an SCDOT audit of SC-296 in 2003 led to a 23.4-percent reduction in crashes in 2005. Of 37 safety recommendations, 25 were adopted, and the economic benefit is estimated at $147,000.

For an idea of the exacting nature of RSAs, one needs to look no further than SCDOT District 3. In June 2003, a three-person team from outside the district, with expertise in road design and traffic engineering, audited a completed project on Greenville County’s SC-14, in District 3. The project widened a section of SC-14 from two lanes to three, with the center lane as a dedicated left-turn lane or a two-way left-turn lane. The audit team first reviewed relevant data and documentation, including plans for the project, intersection crash and traffic volume data, and profiles (plans showing the vertical alignment of the road design), and also interviewed the District 3 construction engineer. Then the team drove the relevant section several times, stopping often to view areas of concern more closely, over the course of 1.5 hours. In the end, the team offered nine suggestions:

  • At the Roper Mountain Road intersection, extend the paved shoulder on the radii in all four corners to cover areas being damaged by vehicles, especially trucks.
  • Add more speed limit signs.
  • Add delineator signs to concrete islands at one intersection, or remove the islands.
  • Trim vegetation at the entrances to two subdivisions, where sight distances are poor.
  • Trim tree limbs overhanging Roper Mountain Road eastbound to improve the signal head visibility.
  • Address ponding in valley gutter sections at stations 198+00 to 199+25 on the east side and 191+00 west directly across from Spaulding Farm.
  • Consider more grinding or reconstruction at 150+75 and 156+50 because catch basins likely are not receiving water.
  • Consider redressing and reseeding shoulders throughout the project except for curb-and-gutter sections.
  • Address excessive voids in the road surface.

“Overall, the project is constructed satisfactorily,’ the auditors wrote in their report. ‘No major design issues were noted. Provided the items above are addressed, this portion of SC-14 should provide for many years of safe and efficient travel.”

Important to note is that despite the project being essentially sound, the RSA was able to turn up ‘marginal’ modifications that saved lives and millions of dollars.

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Amy Johnson Ely

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