• Why Some Roads Have Fewer Accidents
  • January 3, 2018
  • A recent Brigham Young University study commissioned by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides insight into how certain design elements in a roadway can make a car accident more or less likely to occur. The research consists of two main sections including an examination of how certain roadway features correlate with collisions as well as an examination of these features “in action” on highways known for high collision rates.

    The researchers focused on Washington-area portions of five interstate highways. The goal of the research was to determine why collisions happened in terms of roadway design and to use this data to prevent future collisions. Some of the findings were predictable, such as the fact that accidents are more likely to occur on roadways with hills and curves than they are on flatter, straighter roadways. However, other findings were less foreseeable, including the fact that accidents are less likely to occur on roadways with higher speed limits.

    Straight, Wide, Flat Roadways
    The researchers found that roadways with less extreme curvature and fewer curves and bends overall saw fewer collisions than winding roadways. The presence of wide right shoulders directly correlated with a lower rate of collisions. This is likely because shoulders provide drivers with a safe space to immediately pull off the road when an accident is about to occur as well as when they experience car troubles like blow-outs and low fluid levels.

    A Solid Median
    Another roadway design element associated with a lower rate of collisions is the presence of a solid median. Often, highway medians are made of concrete. In some cases, they are merely strips of grass or dirt between lanes. The reason medians are linked with higher collision rates could be that they are more difficult to see – a concrete barrier is large and obvious in all lighting, whereas a flat area of dirt can visually blend with the dark roadway at night, potentially causing drivers to make mistakes when merging.

    Higher Speed Limits
    The researchers also found that higher speed limits correlate with a lower incidence of collisions. The areas of the roadway where the speed limit was 60 or 65 were the areas with the highest number of collisions. Initially, the researchers thought this was because lower speed limits tend to be in more congested areas and more vehicles on the road increase the likelihood of collisions occurring. However, even after controlling for the volume of cars on the road, the correlation between a higher speed limit and a lower accident rate remained.

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