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Highway Safety Systems: Run-Off-the-Road Accidents

It is estimated that about one million vehicle crashes occur annually in the United States as a result of run-off-the-road accidents.  These include incidents where vehicles leave the roadway and impact ditches, trees, freeway overpasses and other roadside elements.  Road safety audits are an important aspect for ensuring that proper highway safety systems are in place to prevent these accidents. 

A road safety audit can help identify problem areas on new or existing roadway structures.  The RSA is a formal assessment of new or existing roads and can be performed at any point in the construction phase.  They are typically performed by an independent team of 3 to 5 people and help uncover potential dangers in roadway construction.  They are an attempt to uncover all possible factors that contribute to vehicle crashes.  These could include areas where safety barriers, signage, traffic lights, turn lanes, impactable delineators, enhanced pavement markings, or any number of other elements should be installed to keep drivers safe. 

Highway safety systems, such as retroreflective signage combined with barriers, can prevent run-off-the-road accidents in potentially dangerous areas.  For example, sections of roadways that encounter steep ravines, bridges, travel under overpasses or bridges are areas that may require enhancements.  Features known as rumble strips can be installed even after a roadway is finished, to alert drivers when they are about to leave the roadway.  Drivers may fall asleep behind the wheel, be intoxicated, or be distracted, and the objective for such systems is that the driver would be alerted prior to his/her vehicle leaving the roadway.  These types of systems are designed to minimize the impact of a vehicle encountering a solid surface and avoiding injuries or deaths as a result. 

About one-third of all highway fatalities are caused by run-off-the-road accidents. Road Safety Audit teams can assess new or existing roads and adjacent structures to identify conditions which contribute to the potential for run-off-the-road accidents.  The teams can provide solutions to deficiencies in overall design and make recommendations for enhancements which result in safer roadways.