National Academies Press: OpenBook

A Guide for Reducing Head-On Crashes on Freeways (2008)

Chapter: Section I - Summary

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Suggested Citation:"Section I - Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2008. A Guide for Reducing Head-On Crashes on Freeways. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23088.
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Suggested Citation:"Section I - Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2008. A Guide for Reducing Head-On Crashes on Freeways. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23088.
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SECTION I Summary Introduction Head-on crashes that occur on freeways are typically severe in nature and may be on the increase. A head-on crash typically occurs when a vehicle crosses the median and crashes with a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction (typically called a cross-median crash or median-crossover crash). A head-on crash can also occur when a vehicle inadvertently travels the wrong way in the opposing traffic lanes. Head-on cross-median crashes are typically the result of inadvertent actions by a driver potentially in combination with other adverse circumstances such as weather conditions or motorist fatigue. Recent experience and research has shown that a comprehensive approach to safety is most effective in creating a safer driving environment and improved effectiveness of safety treatments. A number of safety concerns including many related to head-on crashes cannot be as effectively solved by solely applying one of the “four E’s” (engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency medical services) in isolation. When reviewing strategies dealing with head-on crashes, engineers should strongly consider the role of the other “four E” groups. To address the importance of considering a “four E” approach this document provides strategies that might be considered. General Description of the Problem In 2003, according to the FARS statistics, there were 366 fatal cross-median head-on crashes on U.S. freeways. In 2003 the total number of fatal crashes on Interstate routes was 4,813 with cross-median crashes representing almost 8 percent of the total. Although the number may seem small when compared to the number of overall crashes and to the percentage of all Interstate-related crashes, head-on crashes are extremely severe. This is illustrated by a recent study from the FHWA which considered the number of crossover fatalities on freeways on a national basis. From 1994 to 2002, while fluctuating annually, median-crossover and wrong- way fatalities have increased by 17 percent (Ostensen, 2004). FHWA, in the memo, characterizes this increase as—“In many states, population growth in and around metropolitan areas has resulted in an increase in the vehicle-miles of travel and lane density, factors that may account for an increase in cross-median crashes on freeways approaching or circumventing urban areas. Nationally, the number of crossover fatalities on freeways, while fluctuating, has steadily increased from 581 in 1994 to 680 in 2002.” In addition, it appears that a number of cross- median fatal crashes may have occurred at locations where some type of barrier was in place. Programs and Strategies Objectives The objectives for reducing the number of fatal head-on crashes are to: • Keep vehicles from departing the traveled way • Minimize the likelihood of head-on crashes with an oncoming vehicle I-1

• Reduce the severity of median-barrier crashes that occur • Enhance enforcement and awareness of traffic regulations • Improve coordination of agency safety initiatives These objectives are similar to those cited for run-off-road crashes (emphasis area 15, Volume 6 of this guide) and head-on collisions (emphasis area 18.1, Volume 4 of this guide). Exhibit I-1 summarizes the objectives and strategies. For each objective identified (except for the last objective), there exist various strategies as listed in Exhibit I-1 below. Each strategy is described in detail in this guide. SECTION I—SUMMARY I-2 EXHIBIT I-1 Objectives and Strategies for Addressing Head-On Crashes on Freeways Objectives Strategies 18.2 A Keep vehicles from 18.2 A1 Install left shoulder rumble-strips departing the traveled way 18.2 A2 Provide enhanced pavement markings and median delineation 18.2 A3 Provide improved pavement surfaces 18.2 B Minimize the likelihood 18.2 B1 Provide wider medians of head-on crashes with an 18.2 B2 Improve median design for vehicle recoveryoncoming vehicle - Pavement edge drop-offs - Install paved median shoulder - Design for safer slopes 18.2 B3 Install median barriers for narrow-width medians 18.2 B4 Implement channelization, signing and striping improvements at interchanges susceptible to wrong-way movements 18.2 C Reduce the severity of 18.2 C1 Improve design and application of barrier and attenuation systems median barrier crashes that occur 18.2 D Enhance enforcement and 18.2 D1 Designate “Highway Safety Corridors” awareness of traffic regulations 18.2 D2 Conduct public information & education campaigns 18.2 E Improve coordination of 18.2 E1 Enhance agency crash data systems agency safety initiatives

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TRB's National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 500, Vol. 20, Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan: A Guide for Reducing Head-On Crashes on Freeways, provides strategies that can be employed to reduce head-on crashes on freeways.

In 1998, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approved its Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which was developed by the AASHTO Standing Committee for Highway Traffic Safety with the assistance of the Federal Highway Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Transportation Research Board Committee on Transportation Safety Management. The plan includes strategies in 22 key emphasis areas that affect highway safety. The plan's goal is to reduce the annual number of highway deaths by 5,000 to 7,000. Each of the 22 emphasis areas includes strategies and an outline of what is needed to implement each strategy.

Over the next few years the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) will be developing a series of guides, several of which are already available, to assist state and local agencies in reducing injuries and fatalities in targeted areas. The guides correspond to the emphasis areas outlined in the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan. Each guide includes a brief introduction, a general description of the problem, the strategies/countermeasures to address the problem, and a model implementation process.

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