Well-Maintained Roads Are Key
In addition to in-vehicle passive, active and integral safety systems, compliance with traffic rules and correct, attentive behavior on the roads, the infrastructure also makes a key contribution to road safety. A whole range of measures – making hazardous areas safer; maintaining traffic installations and other street furniture; ensuring that road surfacing is safer for traffic; monitoring speed at accidents hot spots; implementing road construction measures to prevent collisions with trees; installing adequate crash barriers; and lots more – offer considerable optimization potential.
Whether in towns and cities or on rural roads, main roads or highways, infrastructure is a not insignificant cause of accidents with casualties and/or material damage. Although by far the most accidents are a result of human error, this human error is in many cases partly the result of a lack of, or inadequate, infrastructure or poor road conditions. It is not without reason, therefore, that the German Road Safety Council some time ago held a colloquium devoted exclusively to this issue. All participants were unanimous in the view that, in order to improve safety, adapting the road network to take account of the needs and known behavioral errors of drivers, pedestrians and cyclists was of key importance. In the future, the road layout must be designed to take better account of the shortcomings of older drivers, thereby making roads safer for everyone. Of equal importance in the view of the experts attending the colloquium was that new roads must be constructed and existing roads repaired with a view to ensuring that they are forgiving of mistakes. A minor driving mistake on such a road will then not necessarily lead to a serious or even fatal accident because the road and its surrounding area have suitable safety margins and protective systems. When new roads are being built and when major construction work is underway, the aim should also be to create a road that is “self-explanatory.” On such roads, users quickly and clearly see what driving behavior is required.
Systematically identifying safety deficits
In its “Mid-Term Review of the Road Safety Program 2011–2020”, the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) stated that optimizing road infrastructure safety management was among its central tasks for the coming years. According to the BMVI, room for improvement exists primarily on rural roads, which were planned and constructed according to once modern but now frequently outdated technical rules and standards. Rural roads therefore often still follow the course of ancient tracks and in no way fulfill the requirements of modern-day route planning. For this reason, it is especially important to identify specific deficits that could lead to errors of judgment and, in turn, inappropriate responses.
In turn, it is necessary that not only all the measures at our disposal – for example, regional road safety inspections to determine safety potential – are systematically leveraged and that the work undertaken by accident commissions is further intensified and optimized but also that new tools are developed that systematically identify safety deficits and also take account of human factors. Such measures must also include formulating technical rules and standards for audits conducted as needed. The goal must be to implement low-cost measures aimed at identifying and efficiently eliminating shortcomings in road infrastructure, whether this concerns road boundary markings, signage, protective installations or route planning problems.