PIARC launches second edition of global safety manual

The latest edition of PIARC's safety manual presents ideals relevant to helping improve Australia's road network through a Safe System approach.In March 2010, the United Nations (UN) announced its Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, a global plan with a highly ambitious goal.

The aim? To stabilise then reduce the forecast level of road traffic fatalities around the world by 2020. If this goal were achieved, there would be an estimated 50 million fewer serious injuries and five million lives saved worldwide.

In support of and as a contribution to this Decade of Action, PIARC launched its PIARC/World Road Association Safety Manual at the World Road Congress in South Korea in November last year.

Australia’s peak road research body ARRB was chosen to draft the initial report by PIARC and oversaw the production of
the manual.

The comprehensive resource builds on the knowledge and experience provided by PIARC in its first edition. This second version includes new thinking on road safety and primarily why adopting a Safe System approach is vital for how roads are built and maintained worldwide.

Roads & Civil Works Magazine talks to the manual’s principal coordinator and author, ARRB’s Blair Turner, about this latest edition, the Safe System approach and its importance in helping to improve Australia’s road system.

One of the main cruxes of the manual is its emphasis on a Safe System approach, which aims for a more forgiving road system that takes human fallibility and vulnerability into account. In short, everyone from public agencies, car manufacturers, government and enforcement officials to the road users must share the responsibility for road
safety outcomes.

“All too often we blame the driver,” says Mr. Turner. “Human error is part of it, but there is a shared responsibility with the road agencies.”

Mr. Turner says the aim of the manual is to bring about discussion and really educate all levels of road authority around the globe on the Safe System approach in infrastructure. It also provides guidance as to how these road assets can be planned, designed and managed and some of the practices and strategies out there that adhere to and help embrace this universal ideal.

“The manual is aimed at senior management figures, politicians, right through to practitioners who working in this sector this from do to day,” says Mr. Turner. “If you’re a local government and need to approach some kind of safety progress and improve safety standards, this is the guide to help with that.”

The manual includes case studies from countries around the world. It focuses on large countries with established road systems, such as Australia, through to many of the lower and middle-income countries (LMIC) just beginning to establish sustainable road networks, such as Nepal.

For Australia, the manual holds many key global strategies to help mitigate deaths and fatalities on the country’s roads. “What the manual does for Australia is it gets asset managers to try more approaches and strategies through the road management side of things. It gets them talking about connections between individual countries and other road agencies and how to address these issues and look at effective solutions.”

It exemplifies some of the models and methodologies being used internationally, so as to create discussion of these ideas nationally and in some cases, harmonisation.

Mr. Turner says Sweden is often used as a relevant case study example for Australia as both nations have a predominantly low volume rural road network. Like Australia, he says, Sweden’s road death toll is scattered across this vast network and can be hard to gauge. The PIARC manual highlights Sweden’s employment of the “two plus one” (2+1) road system through its rural network. This type of road consists of two lanes in one direction and one lane in the other, which may alternate at various points along the network. “People can pass other cars safely at these locations where the lane system is separated by wire rope barrier,” adds Mr. Turner. The system isn’t unfamiliar to Australia, but it is one safety practice the manual exemplifies, which could be more widely adopted.

Through the information, methodologies and international practices compiled in the PIARC manual, Mr. Turner explains that Australia can certainly begin to tackle some of the big safety issues and move towards a Safe Systems approach across the board.

“We’re getting to the stage where we know the solutions, the cheapest options available that make safety improvements more effective,” he says.

“Rather than reacting to crashes on Australia’s rural road network, the manual asserts the idea that some of these incidents can be predicted based on the design of the road via a suggested risk assessment model.”

Mr. Turner says, for instance, that it’s generally accepted that a bend in a rural road will be the site of more crashes than a straight one, so that would be the right location to implement further safety measures.

Likewise, isolated rural roads can be dangerous due to high-speed limits. The 2+1 system employed by Sweden is just one safety measure that may be used as a simple pre-emptive strike against rural road fatalities.

Using crash statistics as a basis for implementing safety measures on Australia’s road network has its obstacles, particularly given that, as Mr. Turner explains, statistics may not provide sufficient enough information to make an informed decision. “Crash data is very useful but it’s not complete by any stretch of the imagination,” he says.

Mr. Turner asserts that through the combined knowledge gathered in the manual on crash risk assessment, suitable models and methodologies can be used to better improve Australia’s road network and inform asset managers.

“We know what sort of information which will end in fewer crashes… we know about a lot of the survivability of impact speeds,” he says. “We’ve got to be systematic and stick to that risk approach – we don’t have to wait for the crashes to happen.”

The use of a risk assessment model to inform decisions on asset management is just one key idea emphasized in the PIARC manual. Mr. Turner asserts that there is a lot more information included in the resource that can help to guide and inform how road systems can be improved and move towards a Safe Systems approach globally.

Mr. Turner says the next steps for the manual is to introduce it to the different levels of government and road authorities around the world and turn it into a practical exercise. This includes translating some of the components so they can be used as training material for LMIC.

A committee has now been setup in PIARC to start looking at the implications of the strategies in the manual and how they can be better employed globally.

This story has appeared in the Roads & Civil Works February/March 2016 edition – get your copy here today!

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