Study: Bad roadways big factor in traffic deaths
From Kathleen Koch
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new study finds roadways -- not driver error or faulty vehicles -- to be a significant factor in crashes that claimed more than 24,000 lives between 1998 and 2001.
The analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash data by Reader's Digest Magazine found more than one-third of the deaths occurred at intersections, where confusing lanes, blind spots and inadequate signage can be frequent problems.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) says most vulnerable when driving on low-lit roads and busy intersections are older drivers, because of their diminished vision and slower reaction time.
AAA released a list of 10 ways governments can improve roads and intersections:
• Replace multiple and confusing signs with larger, simpler and better-placed signs with larger lettering located well in advance of the intersection or ramp.
• Use retroreflective pavement markings at crosswalks and add countdown signals so pedestrians know how much time they have to safely cross.
• Add dedicated left-turn lanes with an arrow signal.
• Install larger, 30-inch stop signs, as well as roadway lines or rumble strips to alert drivers a stop is ahead.
• Install better lighting on highways and city streets.
• Make road markings brighter by using retroreflective paint.
• Install traffic signals with larger heads (at least 8 inches, but 12 inches in some locations), and adjust timing to add "all red" periods so traffic can clear the intersection.
• Mark freeway exits and entrances with larger, clearer signs located well in advance of the turn.
• Mark work zones with large, bright, carefully placed devices (barrels, cones, etc.), including flashing arrow panels for lane closures.
• Use changeable message signs to help drivers understand changing road conditions and situations.
AAA points to a five-year roadway improvement project in Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan, that made such changes at 60 problem intersections. Injury crashes at those locations have been reduced by approximately 50 percent since the program began in 1997.
Some state and local officials argue local governments don't always have the money to change signs, lighting and road markings at dangerous intersections.
"What it comes down to is dollars," says Karen Miller, incoming president of the National Association of Counties, "and the fact that many local governments don't have the capacity to raise the funds needed for these capital improvements."
But experts argue that the improvements can save millions in hospital costs, property damage and insurance rates by preventing accidents and deaths.
"We could save millions of dollars every year if we just make these small improvements," insists AAA's director of traffic safety policy, Bella Dinh-Zarr. "So really it should be considered an investment to make these road design changes."
AAA is lobbying Congress to earmark more federal transportation dollars for road safety improvements, especially at intersections, when it passes the $375 billion surface transportation funding act this fall.