It should come as no surprise that car accidents are more likely to occur on roads that have steep hills, sharp curves, and a lack of concrete barrier medians. However, according to new research by Brigham Young University (BYU), commissioned by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), there are certain highway features that are associated with lower rates of car accidents. One surprising result from the research was that higher speed limits are associated with lower rates of accidents.
Matt Heaton, statistics professor and co-author of the study, explained that the research found that roads with speed limits in the 60 to 65 mph range had a higher rate of wrecks than roads with higher speed limits. This is largely because areas with lower speed limits tend to be high-traffic areas, which makes car accidents more likely.
With regard to high-speed-zone freeways, the research shows that higher speed limits may not be as dangerous as researchers thought. Based on their findings, Heaton suggests taking a closer look at the risks and the benefits of higher speed limits on certain stretches of highway.
Researchers, including Heaton, fellow professor Shannon Neely Tass, and former master’s student Kaitlin Gibson, combined two statistical analyses to examine how certain factors affected the incidence of car accidents on five interstate highways in Washington state. One method looked at how specific roadway features affected the likelihood of a car accident, and the other method looked at certain hot spots—high-crash areas—controlled for the factors in the analysis. Merging the two methods, said Heaton, allows us to have a better understanding of why car accidents happen and how we can prevent them in the future.
Other roadway features that were found to decrease overall crash risk included increasing the shoulder width, decreasing road curvature, and including medians with a concrete barrier. Another issue the research team discovered was that there are a number of hotspots in Washington with views that can be distracting to drivers.
Heaton explained that engineers can control how the freeway is constructed by making changes to existing roadways, making them safer and ensuring that potential distractions are avoided as much as possible. Gibson and the rest of the team are hopeful that officials in other states can implement similar models using data specific to each state.
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