Public consultation Road Infrastructure SafetyManagent

Brussels, Belgium – ROAD INFRASTRUCTURE SAFETY MANAGEMENT ON THE TRANS-EUROPEAN NETWORKS – A Consultation Paper – presented by the inland transport services of the Directorate General for Energy and Transport

With this consultation paper, the services of the inland transport directorate of the Directorate General for Energy and Transport of the European Commission are calling for comments on their approach to road infrastructure safety management, with a view to preparing a proposal for a Council and Parliament Directive on this matter. Comments should be sent until 19 May 2006 to the address mentioned under point 5.

In 2001 the European Union set itself the ambitious objective of halving the number of fatalities on European roads by 2010 (from 50 000 to 25 000). While progress is being made, road accidents have still caused 41.600 deaths on EU roads in 2005. This large number of accident related deaths causes high costs to society. Besides action on behaviour and the vehicle, infrastructure is the third pillar of the EU road safety action programme. Therefore, it is now time to integrate the three lines of action and to address in a comprehensive way infrastructure measures on Community level.

Present road designs result from many decades of construction and maintenance, in a time when safety issues were not always considered to the same extent. Today, several road features no longer meet the latest safety requirements. Moreover, traffic conditions may have changed since the road was designed and built. While roads are usually designed according to criteria concerning urban or regional planning, travel time, user comfort and convenience, fuel consumption, construction cost and environmental impact, safety is often implicitly assumed to be achieved by simply adhering to prescribed standards of alignment and layout. Experience shows that abiding by those standards is not sufficient to avoid hazardous features.

Many lives could be saved and many accidents avoided if the existing road infrastructure was managed according to the best practice of safety engineering. Action needs to be taken on the selection of high risk road sections or black spots on the basis of local accident records. The thematic network EURORAP II(1) has shown how affordable and well-designed engineering and enforcement measures applied in the right place can reduce the risk that a particular type of crash might lead to death or severe injury of the occupants of the vehicle. For instance, appropriate new signals at junctions can reduce the risk of fatal side impacts by up to 75%; pedestrian crossings at dangerous junctions can lead to a potential reduction of the risk of collisions with vulnerable users by up to 85%.
(1) EuroRAP II is the acronym for European Road Assessment Programme

The thematic network IMPROVER (2) is currently undertaking research on road traffic signing. In a study aimed at identifying potential signing harmonisation areas, experts from 17 EU Member States were asked about official traffic signs in their countries. Preliminary results show that some signs were not recognised by more than 50 % of the experts as part of their official traffic sign collection, though those signs were prescribed by the “Convention on road signs and signals” of 8 November 1968 (the Vienna Convention) (3).
(2) IMPROVER is the acronym for Impact Assessment of Road Safety Measures for Vehicles and Road Equipment. Among the IMPROVER partners are road research institutes from 9 different Member States as well as from Israel
(3) Convention on Road Signs and Signals, Economic Commission for Europe, 8 November 1968

In 2004, the thematic network RISER(4) undertook a research on single vehicle crashes. According to this study, road turns out to be a major contributing factor in one out of three fatal accidents. 27% of the accidents are the result of an impact against unfenced road side objects, such as trees, sign posts or poles, while impacts against safety barriers represent only about 24% of all impacts.
4 RISER is the acronym for Roadside Infrastructure for Safer European Roads. Among the RISER partners are road research institutes from 9 different Member States

In order to tackle the problem, the Commission’s services propose to ensure that safety is integrated in all phases of planning, design and operation of road infrastructure on the trans-European network. Safety should be regarded in its own right and separately from economic and environmental analysis.

Therefore, the main objectives of Community action should be:

  • a) To provide road authorities and road managers with the instruments necessary to strengthen safety to maximize the benefit to road users and the public at large, to make safety implications of decisions more transparent and to optimise use of limited funds for more efficient construction and maintenance roads;
  • b) To increase the safety of new roads through continuous adaptation to the latest safety requirements and through a regular risk assessment;
  • c) To bring about a common high level of safety of roads in all EU Member States;
  • d) To create safety awareness in order to achieve informed decisions on planning and design;
  • e) To establish a constant exchange of best practice in terms of infrastructure safety management; to allow the collection and the distribution of the available expertise in order to exploit research results.

The services of the Commission have envisaged three options for the problem defined above.

  • Option 1: No policy change
    The advantage of maintaining the status quo would be that it does not involve any direct cost or effort for the management of infrastructure safety from the Community budget. On the other hand, this option does not offer any guarantee that road safety will be further enhanced by Member States.

    Moreover, experience has shown that the simple exchange of best practice is not enough to ensure appreciable results towards the objective of higher road infrastructure safety.

  • Option 2: To provide for Community legislation requiring the adoption of guidelines on infrastructure safety management, leaving the details of their implementation to Member States.

    Leaving Member States the freedom to adopt their own legislation on infrastructure safety management will have several positive impacts:

    • it would involve significantly lower costs than the harmonisation option, since unsuitable and expensive approaches would be avoided by Member States;
    • the knowledge of their already adopted road safety management approaches will enable Member States to adopt the appropriate guidelines to implement the minimum requirements prescribed by the Directive;
    • more efficient and effective infrastructure safety management instruments would be adopted all over the European Union in a shorter time and would immediately contribute to saving lives on the European roads;
    • comparing the different approaches adopted by the Member States and their effects will allow the Commission and the Member States to identify best practices and to possibly adopt further harmonised guidelines which can be progressively extended to Member States.
  • Option 3: To provide for stringent Community legislation aimed at introducing defined and harmonised common infrastructure safety management standards in the Member States.

    The harmonisation of Member States legislation on road safety assessment, audits, management and inspections, would provide common instruments to strengthen safety to maximise the benefit to road users and the public at large. These instruments would be coherent and homogeneous and would guarantee that common minimum safety requirements are reached on the Trans European Road Network.

    However, obtaining an extended harmonisation could face the opposition of Member States, creating many difficulties for them:

    • most of the Member States would have to reorganise their road safety practices and legislation, even if already adopted and effective; this would involve huge investments for Member States;
    • the large differences between the already existing road safety approaches would create political conflicts among Member States and the Commission;
    • common harmonised guidelines would not take into account organisational and socio-cultural differences between the Member States, as well as differences in the size, the quality, the use and the need for safety improvement of road networks. As a consequence, their effectiveness could not be assured;
    • the harmonisation process would require time to be finalised; the consequent number of lives saved would only be appreciated years later and would only partially justify the huge efforts and costs for Member States.

    The Commission’s services are therefore envisaging following option 2.

    Four basic types of measures are currently in use in EU Member States and, if found to correspond to best practices, could be considered to improve road infrastructure safety in the European Union as a whole.

    Road safety impact assessment
    Approval procedures of new roads or reconstruction works take into account economic data, environmental effects and traffic impacts, but they frequently fall short of understanding the safety implications of a project. Through road safety impact assessments, one could ensure that the safety impacts (especially on surrounding networks and other transports) are fully assessed, documented and transparent before a choice is made between alternative projects.

    Road safety impact assessments could take place at an early planning stage to allow the results of the assessment to influence the further planning process, as in the case of environmental impact assessment. Moreover, one could consider carrying them out on all transport policy measures having an influence on road safety, including e.g. infrastructure investments, standardisation, pricing etc.

    The results of a safety impact assessment could be taken into account in the decision, which of the alternative scenarios should be selected. When a decision has been taken, the competent entity might inform the public and the authorities concerned of the content of the decision and the reasons and considerations on which the decision is based, in application of regulation on public access to document.

    Road safety audits
    Once a road design has been chosen, possibly dangerous road elements could be identified and rectified, to ensure that no safety requirement had been underestimated in the previous planning. Road safety audits provide the tools and know-how to identify possible mistakes before the road is cast in concrete. Introducing early improvements and corrections at the planning and design stages may allow the social and economic costs of accidents to be reduced.

    The auditors could be required to have experience in road design, road engineering and accident analysis and not be involved in the conception or operation of the concerned infrastructure project. Where the design has not been rectified following an observation in the audit report, the infrastructure manager may be asked to state the reasons.

    Network safety management
    Network safety management analyses networks to find measures that have the highest accident reduction potential, i.e. it will consider the parts of the network where most can be gained in relation to the cost. Identification of high-risk road sections or black spots may be done to target action on stretches of road where high numbers of fatal and severe accidents happen or can be expected. Safety gains expected could be quite high during the first years of a high-risk site management programme. This is why infrastructure providers could be asked to mobilise the critical resources in staff, know-how and finance to substantially and quickly reduce the number of serious and fatal road accidents.

    Once high-risk road sections or black spots have been dealt with, the safety quality of the whole network may be improved. Assessments could range from identifying and treating accident patterns at single high-risk sites or black spots to understanding and managing safety over whole routes.

    Safety inspections
    One may also consider inspecting and remedying safety deficits in locations without a past record of high accident numbers. Such safety inspections may then be carried out periodically. They would be undertaken in the context of a safety programme and target sensitive points like road works, level crossings, signing, tree lines and night visibility. Regular inspections would also help identify transient changes affecting the condition and visibility of the signs and markings, for example.

    The inspections could enable a risk analysis to indicate both where accidents are likely to happen and which action is appropriate. The risk analysis approach could be used to establish links between certain design elements and accident occurrence in order to compare route sections with desired safety principles. Accident reports can play a crucial role in improving road infrastructure. They should identify relevant accident types. This information would be made available to allow the identification of high-risk sites or black spots, as well as the selection and ranking of effective remedial measures.

    The services of the Commission are calling for comments on the initiative, as outlined above. They would specifically be grateful for focus on the following questions:

    • 1. Do you agree with the definition and assessment of the problem?
    • 2. Do you agree with the policy options defined, and assessed?
    • 3. What is your opinion on the measures/instruments described in point 4? What other measures could be taken?
    • 4. Do you have specific comments on the costs and benefits of the different instruments/measures?
    • 5. Is there any other comment you would wish to make?

    Comments should be sent by fax or e-mail, not later than 19 May 2006, to
    European Commission
    Directorate General for Energy and Transport
    Road Safety Unit
    Fax: 00 32 2 29 65196
    Note: Comments received will be published by the Commission.