Road Safety Manual
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12.4 Evaluating Road Safety Infrastructure Interventions

Effective decisions regarding the use of road safety infrastructure interventions can only be made with adequate knowledge regarding its effectiveness. The key measure that is used for this assessment is the expected reduction in crashes, expressed as a crash modification factor (CMF) for the intervention. This indicates the degree to which the intervention is expected to reduce crashes. CMFs are also described in detail in Effective Safe System Interventions in Intervention Options And Selection. CMFs help policy-makers in the decision-making process, and the results from previous studies are typically used to provide a realistic estimate of the expected effect. However, there are many gaps in knowledge regarding the effectiveness of interventions.

An international collaboration on effective evaluation for road safety infrastructure interventions has recently been completed. The OECD/ITF (2012) document Sharing Road Safety provided the following key messages:

  • Road safety policy is increasingly dependent on robust indicators on the effectiveness of interventions. This information is required to justify expenditure, and also to argue for support of interventions that may not always be popular. CMFs are fundamental in this context.
  • Lack of reliable knowledge of the effectiveness of certain road safety infrastructure is a key barrier to the adoption of potentially life-saving interventions.
  • We are currently at a turning point, as there is the prospect of rapid advances and major cost savings through the international transfer of results on treatment effectiveness (e.g. via CMFs).
  • Transferability of CMFs relies on analysing the extent to which a CMF is dependent on the circumstances/context/environment in which it was developed (also see Chapter 11 on this issue of context).
  • Variability in CMF research results is a major barrier to transferability between countries, but this can be addressed by using standard approaches to evaluation, including appropriate methodologies and reporting of the circumstances under which the intervention was used.

Some of the key recommendations from this work were that:

  • Road safety policies should undergo performance and efficiency evaluation. This work cannot be undertaken without CMFs.
  • Research to develop CMFs should follow the guidance presented in the OECD/ITF (2012) report and provide information on essential reporting elements.
  • Coordination of research across countries on top priority countermeasures should be considered within an international group.
  • A trans-national database is needed for CMFs to help share information.
  • A concerted effort should be made to publicise the benefits of decision-making based on CMFs.

The ultimate measure of the success of a road safety policy or intervention is the effect that it has had on crash reduction, particularly the reduction in fatal and serious injuries. Unfortunately, difficulty arises in considering crashes on their own, as it may be necessary to wait several years after the countermeasure or package of measures has been introduced to be able to validate the changes in crash statistics. Given an indication of effectiveness is often required in a shorter timeframe, particularly to determine that nothing has gone wrong, more immediate feedback may be required. Proxy measures for safety might be useful to monitor the effectiveness of schemes (see also Identifying Data Requirements) for the link between intermediate and final outcome measures). These proxy measures are usually observational-type measurements. It is often recommended to conduct an evaluation in two stages: a short-term phase (e.g. 6 months) and a longer-term phase (e.g. 3 to 5 years).

Observations

Where practical, the treated site, route or area should be observed immediately after completion of the construction work; with regular visits made in the following days, weeks or months after completion until the team is satisfied that the scheme is operating as expected.

It is recommended that any earlier behavioural measurements made at the investigation stage be repeated later (e.g. traffic conflict counts, speed measurements), as this will help determine/support the need for any further changes, or may in fact prove the success of the intervention. This behavioural study is also required because some features of an intervention may, for instance, produce an unforeseen reaction in road users and subsequently create a potentially hazardous situation. Monitoring should highlight this problem at an early stage so that appropriate action can be taken quickly to remove this hazard.

At best, it may be possible to alleviate this hazard easily, e.g. by realigning the kerb lines to prevent a hazardous manoeuvre. At worst, it could lead to the complete withdrawal of a scheme and the need to reassess alternative schemes.

Some of the issues that may be relevant to assess include:

  • Speeds;
  • traffic conflict studies;
  • traffic volumes;
  • travel time/delay;
  • compliance with traffic control devices;
  • skid resistance;
  • sight distance;
  • vulnerable road user safety (nature and importance of users’ movements).

It would be impractical to carry out detailed behavioural studies for all minor alterations, but such studies may be particularly important for expensive schemes such as area-wide or mass action treatments.

It may be preferable to allow the scheme to operate for about two months before conducting a behavioural ‘after’ study. This should serve as a ‘settling-in’ period, during which regular users get used to a new road feature and any learning effects have largely disappeared. The evaluation should verify the impacts in terms of safety for all users. The overall effects of a project should be understood as a whole. For example, the implementation of a bike lane can be dangerous if used by motorcyclists.

The case study below shows an example of evaluation based on observation of behaviours (speed and lane position) in Malaysia (Box 12.1).

 

Box 12.1: Case Study – Safety effects of central hatching on four lane rural roads

The problem: Based on the results of a road safety assessment along the Federal Route 1 in Malaysia, two single carriageway sections in the state of Perak were identified to have high risk of head-on collisions. Site observations revealed high prevalence of illegal overtaking and poor lane discipline. Vehicles on nearside lane were observed to travel away from the median, thus creating lane line conflicts with vehicles on the left. A speed study at the sites had indicated the operating speed to be slightly above the posted speed limit.

The solution: Installing central hatching was identified as one viable option to provide greater separation between opposing traffic as well as to reduce traffic speed. Central hatching (also commonly known as a painted or flush median) is one of the perceptual countermeasures to speeding. They are relatively low cost, non-obtrusive road markings usually involving only paint. Besides reducing conflicts, encouraging improved vehicle lateral placement and lower speeds, it is also used as part of access management and to provide pedestrians with a place to stop while crossing. The figure below shows the 1.0m central hatching installed at one of the study sites.

Figure: Installation of central hatching on a horizontal curve

The outcome: The results showed the implementation of central hatching has been effective in reducing vehicle speed as well as improving lane discipline. The average travel speed of vehicles was found to have significantly reduced by 3 km/h coupled with a significant reduction in lateral position of vehicles with reference to the median edge line (centerline or central hatching).2 The evaluation suggested that vehicles on the nearside lane travelled closer to the median compared to the before period. It indicates that drivers may feel safer staying in their lane to avoid getting into conflict with the opposing vehicles.

Source: 1Godley, S., Fildes, B., Triggs, T. and Brown, L. 1999. Perceptual countermeasures: experimental research. Report No. CR 182, Monash University Accident Research Centre, Victoria; 2Alvin Poi W.H. and Jamilah M.M. 2010. The Safety Effects of Central Hatching on Four-Lane Rural Roads in Malaysia. In Proc: MIROS Road Safety Conference, 8-9 December 2010. Kuala Lumpur.

 

© ARRB Group

Crash-based Evaluation

The most important form of evaluation of any safety measure is determining its effect on crashes, and whether the intervention has reduced the number of crashes (particularly fatal and serious injury ones) by the expected amount. Evaluation involves the analysis of crash data by comparing the safety performance before a change was made to the safety performance afterwards. This often involves statistical analysis. To be reasonably sure that the random nature of crashes has been taken into account, it will normally be necessary to wait for several years for a valid result to be available. As mentioned earlier, more immediate feedback is often necessary and sometimes a shorter-term monitoring method may be applied.

Apart from the time-scale issue, there are other factors that complicate the (apparently straightforward) process of assessing the effectiveness of crash changes at treated sites, routes or areas. The main ones to consider are:

  • regression to the mean;
  • changes at the site that are not related to the intervention (including general changes to crash trends, changes in traffic volume, etc.);
  • crash migration.

Each of these is discussed below.

Regression to the mean

This effect complicates evaluations at high-crash locations. Crash locations for treatment are typically chosen because they were the scene of numerous crashes. In some cases, the high crash numbers may be the result of just one particularly bad year, and this may have happened purely by chance. Crash numbers at such sites will tend to fall in the next year even if no intervention is applied. Even if a three-year period is used, crash occurrence may be due to random fluctuations, and in subsequent years these sites will experience lower numbers. This is known as regression to the mean. It is believed that the regression to the mean effect can overstate the effectiveness of a treatment by 5% to 30%.

Mountain, Maher and Fawaz (1998) provide a clear example of regression to the mean that can result in overestimation of intervention effectiveness. In a large study covering over 900 sites and 13 612 crashes, they compared crashes occurring during the site identification ‘before’ period, the lag period (the period between a site being selected for treatment and the actual installation of the treatment), and the ‘after’ period. The crash numbers were adjusted to take the different period lengths into account, and the data is summarised in Table .Table 12.1 The difference between the number of crashes occurring in the lag period and the number of crashes occurring in the before period was taken as a measure of the regression to the mean effect.

Table 12.1: Extent of regression to the mean and treatment effects for different types of treatment
Treatment Biased estimate of reduction due to the treatment (%) Unbiased estimate of the treatment effect (%) Estimated reduction due to regression to the mean (%)

Surface treatments

46

23

23

Surface treatments – wet road crashes only

67

27

40

Mini-roundabouts

68

65

3

Other junction improvements

42

27

15

Link realignment

63

37

26

Other link improvements

34

10

24

Street lighting schemes

27

5

22

Traffic management schemes

41

22

19

All treatment types

43

23

20

Source: Adapted from Mountain, Maher and Fawaz (1998).

There has been much debate among statisticians over many years on this subject and on how to deal with the problem (e.g. Abbess et al., 1981; Hauer & Byer, 1983; Wright & Boyle, 1987; Maher & Mountain, 1988; Kulmala, 1994; Radin Umar et al., 1995).

The most robust way of accounting for both the regression to the mean effect and changes in the environment may be through the use of control sites that have been chosen in exactly the same way as the treated sites and have been identified as having similar problems, but have been left untreated. The choice as to whether a site is treated or is left untreated is based on a random allocation.This type of controlled experiment (or randomised control trial) is rare in road safety infrastructure projects as it is difficult to justify not treating a site that has been identified as high risk.

In recent years, the Empirical Bayes approach has emerged as an effective way of minimising the impact of regression to the mean. Although the Empirical Bayes approach is recognised as good practice in road safety evaluation, not all countries (especially those in LMICs) will have experience in using this technique. If not using this recommended approach, at the very least, a before-and-after analysis using comparison sites should be undertaken, with at least three (but preferably five) years of data collected for the before period. This is because the regression to the mean effect does tend to diminish if considered over longer periods of time. For example, in a study conducted in two counties in the UK, Abbess et al. (1981) calculated that regression to the mean had the following effects:

  • When a one-year period was used, the effect of regression to the mean was estimated to be between 15–26%;
  • For two years, the estimate was 7–15 %;
  • For three years, the estimate was 5–11%.

Where the Empirical Bayes approach has not been used, the above allowances could be made when calculating the reduction in crashes produced by the countermeasures.

Changes in general crash trends, including traffic flow

When evaluating changes in crashes (or for most of the monitoring measures described in Observation in 12.4 Evaluating Road Safety Infrastructure Interventions), other factors not affected by the treatment might still influence that measure, and therefore will have to be taken into account. Examples include a change in the speed limit on roads that include the treated crash site; national or local road safety campaigns; or traffic management schemes that might affect traffic volume (e.g. closure of an intersection near the site, producing a marked change in traffic patterns). Changes related to external factors may be compensated for by comparing the site under study, for the same before and after periods, with comparison sites (sometimes termed ‘control’ sites) that have not been treated. In order for this data to be valid, it is important that these other sites experience exactly the same changes as the site under evaluation.

Comparison data can be collected either by matched pairs or area controls. A matched pair control site involves finding a site that is geographically close to the treated site (but not close enough to be affected by any traffic diversion), and has similar general characteristics. This is so that the control site will be subject to the same local variations that might affect safety (e.g. weather, traffic flows, safety campaigns, etc.).

In practice it may be difficult to find other sites with similar safety problems that will be left untreated purely for the sake of statistical analysis. Area comparisons comprising a large number of sites are, therefore, frequently used.

Comparison group sites should be as similar as possible to the treated sites and they should not be affected by the treatment.

Crash migration

There is still some controversy over whether or not the ‘crash migration’ effect exists, but some researchers contend that it is real (Boyle & Wright, 1984; Persaud, 1987). It has been found that crashes tend to increase at sites adjoining a successfully treated site, producing an apparent crash transfer or ‘migration’. Why this effect occurs is unclear, but one hypothesis is that drivers are ‘compensating’ for the improved safety at treated sites by being less cautious elsewhere.

Obviously, to detect such an occurrence, the crash frequencies in the surrounding area of the treated sites before and after treatment need to be compared with a suitable comparison group. In other words, the area of an evaluation study needs to be expanded to include routes that may be impacted by the project, and comparison sites must be identified that have not been affected.

However, there are no established techniques yet available to estimate such an effect for a particular site. The first reported occurrence of this feature (Boyle & Wright, 1984) found an overall crash increase in the surrounding areas of about 9%, and a later study (Persaud, 1987) of a larger number of sites estimated the increase to be 0.2 crashes per site per year.

A study by Austroads (2010) identified the effects that certain interventions have on the redistribution of traffic, and suggest that this may be a cause of migration. If traffic is reduced at the treated location, it is likely that it will be increased at a nearby location (this is likely in all situations, except the rare circumstance where trip numbers are reduced). It is suggested that this redistribution is more likely for certain types of treatments. For these interventions, evaluation of the effects should include a broader geographic area to capture locations where exposure (and therefore risk) may be increased. Interventions identified as potentially causing such an effect included:

  • turn controls or bans;
  • major changes to a route, such as parking changes;
  • bridge closure;
  • localised speed limit changes;
  • intersection changes, e.g. signalisation, turn phase timing change, turning lanes;
  • traffic calming;
  • lane additions;
  • addition of overtaking lanes;
  • pedestrian treatments at intersections and at mid-block locations;
  • railway crossing control;
  • mid-block turning provision.

Evaluation methods

There are several key documents that provide detailed accounts of evaluation methods for road safety infrastructure. These include:

  • The Highway Safety Manual (AASHTO, 2010);
  • An Introductory Guide for Evaluating Effectiveness of Road Safety Treatments (Austroads, 2012);
  • Guide to Developing Quality Crash Modification Factors (Gross et al., 2010).

One or more of these documents should be consulted for a full account of how to conduct a road safety evaluation.

The ‘gold standard’ in evaluation methodology is a ‘controlled experiment’ or randomised control trial (RCT). As indicated earlier, this approach is very rare in evaluation of infrastructure interventions. This is mainly due to concerns with leaving high risk sites untreated, but is also due to issues such as lack of knowledge regarding this approach. By randomly allocating sites to a treatment or control group, any biases which arise from treating sites with the worst crash history should be eliminated. External factors which come into play as the evaluation proceeds (such as unforeseen enforcement programmes in the area of the trials) are also catered for, as the external factors can be assumed to affect the treatment and control sites equally. The difference between the treatment and control sites in the after period is a true reflection of the influence of the treatment.

The currently recommended approach for evaluation of infrastructure interventions is the Empirical Bayes (or EB) method. Hauer (1997) explains this procedure in its simplest form, which is recommended reading for those wishing to understand the logic behind this approach as it applies to road safety. The following provides a very simplistic overview of the approach.

The approach uses the concept of an ‘expected’ number of crashes, or the long-term average, calculated over as long a period as is considered useful. The second concept is the ‘reference population’, or a set of similar sites or routes for which data is available (e.g. all intersections of a certain type in a network). The reference population acts like a comparison group. In the classical version of EB, the number of crashes which would be expected at a treatment site if no intervention had taken place is estimated and compared with the number of crashes that actually occurred. The comparison of the actual number of crashes with the expected number of crashes indicates the extent of the CMF.

A commonly applied method for the evaluation of infrastructure safety is the before-and-after study utilising a comparison group. Even though this approach does not fully address the issue of regression to the mean (although as indicated above, using a longer ‘before’ time period can reduce this effect), it does limit the impact of external factors. The approach compares the outcomes at the treatment sites with the outcomes at a set of comparison sites (sometimes termed ‘control’ sites), which have similar characteristics to the treatment sites in all important aspects, except that the treatment is not installed. This approach assumes that external factors act on both the treatment sites and the comparison sites in an identical way, and so can be measured and allowed for. Since the treatment sites and the comparison sites are subject to the same sets of external variables, any difference in safety outcomes must be due to the treatment.

The most basic form of evaluation (and one that has often been applied) is to simply compare crashes in the period before an intervention is installed with the crashes after (termed a simple or naïve before-and-after study – i.e. without a comparison group). This approach is not recommended, as it does not adequately account for regression to the mean or external variables.

Cross-sectional studies have also been used to try and identify the effects of safety interventions. These studies compare safety performance of sites with a particular safety feature (or features) with sites that do not have the same feature. It is assumed that the difference in safety performance is due to this feature. There are many issues with using this approach (particularly differences between sites other than the feature of interest; and differential crash rates that may have led to the installation of the feature in the first place), therefore it should not be used for this type of evaluation (however, if it is used, the limitations should be well-understood and documented).

In evaluating a particular treatment, the answers to the following questions will usually be required:

  • Has the treatment been effective?
  • If so, how effective has it been?

The rare and random nature of road crashes can lead to fairly large fluctuations in crash frequencies at a site from year to year, even though there has been no change in the underlying safety level. This extra variability makes the effect of the treatment more difficult to detect, but a test of statistical significance can be used to determine whether the observed change in crashes is likely to have occurred by chance or not.

The main problem with using crash data for evaluation (even assuming high recording accuracy) is distinguishing between changes due to the treatment and changes due to other sources. As explained earlier, even if the selected sites are good comparison groups that take into account the environmental influences, there are other confounding factors that need to be considered.

There are a number of points to take into account when choosing time periods used to compare crashes occurring before and after treatment; these include:

  • The construction period should be omitted from the study. If this period was not recorded precisely, a longer period containing the installation period should be excluded.
  • The before period should be long enough to provide a good statistical estimate of the true safety level (to eliminate random fluctuations as much as possible). It should not, however, include periods during which the site had different characteristics. As a general rule, three to five years is widely regarded as a reasonable period.
  • The same rule applies to the after period, which should be at least three years. However, results are often required much sooner than this. A one-year after period can initially be used if there is no reason why this should bias the result (as long as the same period is used at the comparison sites). However, sensitivity is lost, and the estimate of the intervention’s success should be updated later when more data becomes available.

As identified throughout this chapter, there are a number of documents that provide a detailed guide to evaluating intervention effectiveness. There are also various tools to help with this task. Box 12.2 provides a summary of the Countermeasure Evaluation Tool from SafetyAnalyst.

Box 12.2: SafetyAnalyst Countermeasure evaluation tool

Developed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Countermeasure evaluation tool is part of the SafetyAnalyst suite of tools. It provides step-by-step guidance for conducting evaluation of the benefits of safety interventions using the Empirical Bayes approach. Therefore, it is able to account for the effect of regression to the mean (see above). As well as detecting the overall change in crashes (the CMF), the tool can also identify the effect on specific target crash types. For further details see Harwood et al. (2010) or http://www.safetyanalyst.org/evaltool.htm.

Source: Harwood et al. (2010).

© ARRB Group

Pathway to Effective Monitoring and Evaluation

Getting started

  • Ensure key stakeholders understand the importance of monitoring and evaluation. This should include an understanding of potential risks if these activities are not undertaken.
  • Establish processes for the collection of relevant data. This collection could be undertaken as part of a corridor demonstration project.
  • Train key road agency staff and stakeholders in evaluation methods. This should include an understanding of robust methods used in analysis.
  • Track performance against road safety targets using these methods.

Making progress

  • Increase awareness amongst key stakeholders about the importance of monitoring and evaluation.
  • Collect relevant data, particularly on high-volume, high risk parts of the road network at locations where interventions are made as the minimum. Extend this to all parts of the road network including national, regional and local roads.
  • Adopt or develop tools to help in the monitoring and evaluation process.
  • Continue to build expertise amongst road agency staff and stakeholders on evaluation methods.
  • Publish results so that others can access this information, and support for effective interventions can be built.
  • Track performance against road safety targets, including through linkage between intermediate and outcome measures. Use this knowledge to improve processes including the types of interventions selected.

Consolidating activity

  • Continue to increase awareness amongst key stakeholders about the importance of monitoring and evaluation.
  • Collect relevant monitoring data on all parts of the road network, including at locations beyond where interventions were made to provide the necessary data to facilitate appropriate before-after evaluations of interventions.
  • Internationally benchmark tools and approaches to help in the monitoring and evaluation process.
  • Continue to build expertise amongst road agency staff and stakeholders on evaluation methods.
  • Continue to track performance against road safety targets, including through linkage between intermediate and outcome measures. Inform stakeholders about progress against targets, including information on effective road safety treatments. This information should be directed to internal stakeholders, politicians, external stakeholders, and members of the public.
  • Internationally benchmark this performance against the worlds’ best road safety nations and use this knowledge to help improve processes.

 

Reference sources

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