Safer Roads Can Save Your Life

The roads we drive on can put a driver at risk, or increase drivers’ odds of a safe trip. Highway safety experts have identified simple, inexpensive and highly effective safety measures that can mean the difference between a safe trip and another auto fatality. Here are several examples from Put the Brakes on Fatalities, an organization committed to reducing motor vehicle fatalities and injuries through raising awareness of safety issues

Safety improvements to narrow roadways and bridges save lives

A 23-mile stretch of California’s Highway 46 in San Luis Obispo County claimed 29 lives in 19 crashes over a five-year period. More than two-thirds involved head-on collisions. CallTrans, the California Department of Transportation, added rumble strips, pavement reflectors, and raised thermoplastic striping along the shoulders and centerline. They compared fatalities over the 16 months before the improvements, and the 16 months after the improvements were completed. Fatalities dropped from eight to zero after the improvements. Injury accidents were reduced by 14%, and total collisions declined by 27%.

Rumble strips can dramatically reduce drift-off-the roadway crashes.

Rumble strips are one of the most effective ways to keep drivers on the road. Special rumble strips, equipped with a Sonic Nap Alert Pattern (SNAP), produce a distinct warning sound and vibration that alert drivers whose vehicles are drifting off the roadway. When SNAP strips were installed on all 506 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in1990, drift-off-the-road crashes decreased by 65% per month. SNAP strips and recessed reflective payment markers are now routinely installed in all new roadway segments on the Turnpike. Turnpike officials credit the rumble strips with reducing the crash rate by 2.3 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles, or 100 crashes per year. Since the Turnpike’s experience was published, rumble strips have become a common fixture on highways and rural roads throughout the country.

Make roads user-friendly for older drivers

Many roads were not built to serve today’s high-volume, high-speed traffic. Certain road conditions present an even greater threat because of the growth in the nation’s elderly population. Florida leads the way in the implementation of roadway improvement measures that particularly affect the state’s ever-increasing elderly population which is expected to climb to 25% by the year 2020.

In 1992 Florida rolled out its Elder Roadway User Program, designed to meet the needs of its elderly population. Improvements were made to roadways, including six-inch-wide pavement markings for better visibility; reflective pavement markings with 40-foot spacing; large overhead street signs at busy intersections; advance street name signs; improvements to pedestrian features at intersections; and increased emphasis on effective traffic control through work zones. The result has been a marked decrease in specific types of crashes. These improvements have become part of the state’s regular road maintenance program.

Improvements at intersections reduce crashes and injuries.

Working with state and local government, the AAA in Michigan identified high-crash intersections and developed recommendations to improve them. Typical countermeasures were low-cost, including adjusting the placement and timing of signal lights, upgrading signal lenses to make them more visible, and adding left-turn signals and turning lanes. At one intersection the improvements reduced the number of crashes by 48% and the injuries by 70%. Improvements at other high-crash intersections followed.