907.2 Road Safety Assessment (RSA)

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A road safety assessment (RSA) is a formal examination of the safety performance of a given roadway facility by an independent multidisciplinary team. RSAs may be conducted on existing roadway facilities or on future facilities during the design and/or construction phases. During a RSA, the team collectively examines the roadway facility to identify potential safety issues and opportunities for improvements to enhance the safety for all road users. RSAs aim to answer the following questions:

  • What elements of the road may present a safety concern: to what extent, to which road users, and under what circumstances?
  • What opportunities exist to eliminate or mitigate identified safety concerns?

In 2008 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) identified RSAs as one of nine proven crash countermeasures all states should consider implementing into their safety plans. Studies have shown crash reductions of up to 60% in locations where RSAs have been conducted. In addition, RSAs can provide reductions in lifecycle costs, societal costs of collisions and liability claims.

When to Conduct RSAs

As previously noted, RSAs may be conducted on existing or future roadway facilities and at several different stages. The greatest opportunity for safety benefits tends to occur in the planning and preliminary stages of a project. Changes to improve the safety performance of a facility are typically easier to implement in these early stages. Once a design progresses into construction, these changes can become more difficult, costly and time-consuming. In addition, RSAs conducted at the early stages of a project offer greater feasibility for incorporating more large-scale improvements that may offer maximum safety benefit.

Once construction of a project has began, RSAs can still be used effectively to identify potential safety issues and countermeasures prior to project completion. One advantage of RSAs conducted during construction is the ability for the RSA team to view parts of the project as-built. Finalized plans are also available at this stage which may allow the RSA to be more comprehensive. RSAs during the construction phase can be especially ideal for existing roadway facilities. Conducting an RSA on a existing facility while other construction is taking place may allow for safety enhancements to be added to the current project that otherwise may not have been included.

For existing facilities, RSAs are unique in that they look more at ways to mitigate potential concerns due to existing characteristics rather than making design changes prior to facility use. These RSAs are still proactive in that they don’t only focus on existing issues, but also on potential issues due to existing characteristics. RSAs on existing facilities also have the added benefit having crash data available for review. Every year, MoDOT produces High Severity Lists for both roadway segments and intersections. These lists can be used to identify specific existing locations at which an RSA may be beneficial. For existing facilities, RSAs may offer a quick, low-cost method for addressing safety improvements while waiting for larger-scale projects to be programmed.

The RSA Team

The primary objective of selecting the RSA team is to choose an independent, qualified and multidisciplinary team who can successfully conduct an RSA. Team members may consist of individuals from within the owning agency, from another public agency, or from other outside sources. These individuals should, however, be independent of the project or facility being reviewed. Individuals chosen from within the owning agency should not be involved in the design process of the project.

There is no defined number of members for an RSA team. Typically, teams consist of at least 3 members, but no more than 5 or 6. However, projects or facilities of more complex nature or of larger scale may require a larger team for complete review.

Each individual on the RSA team should have some background in road safety, traffic operations or road design. Collectively, the team should represent a number of multiple disciplines including traffic, design, construction, maintenance and law enforcement. The team should include at least one member from an independent local agency who is familiar with the facility under review. Depending on the project or facility, it may be desirable to have an expert member on the team in an area particularly related to the facility being reviewed (intelligent transportation systems, pedestrians, commercial motor vehicles, etc.).

The RSA Process

Once a project has been identified and the RSA team has been formed, the following procedures outline a typical RSA. It is important to note that specific steps of each RSA may vary depending on available information, scale and complexity of the project, and time constraints. A more detailed outline of the RSA process may be found at FHWA’s roadway safety audit webpage.

1. Conduct a pre-review meeting to review pertinent information. The pre-review meeting is the starting point of the actual RSA. This meeting allows for team members to be introduced and gives the facility owner the opportunity to discuss the context and scope of the project or road facility being reviewed. If an existing facility is being reviewed, the pre-review meeting is an ideal time to review and discuss available crash data and any other existing conditions that are known to the team. The length of the pre-review meeting is dictated by the scope and complexity of the project or facility. Pre-review meetings may range anywhere from an hour to half a day. The basic purposes of the pre-review meeting are to:

  • Hand over all relevant information to the review team.
  • Review the scope and objectives of the RSA.
  • Delegate responsibilities.
  • Agree upon a schedule for completion of the RSA.
  • Set up lines of communication.
  • Communicate matters of importance to the review team.

2. Perform field reviews under various conditions. The field review is the key step in the RSA process. One approach for the field review is for the RSA team to conduct the entire field review as a team, moving through the site as a group. Another approach is for each individual member review the site independently first before coming together in the field as a group. Either approach is acceptable.

While in the field, issues previously discussed in the pre-review meeting should be noted and verified. Any field review should include comprehensive note-taking and photographs or video footage in order to thoroughly document findings in the field. This documentation is critical to writing the final report. If possible, making a second trip to the field under different conditions (nighttime, peak hour, etc.) may allow for more complete findings. FHWA has provided prompt lists to help ensure complete field reviews.

3. Conduct review analysis and prepare report of findings. Once the field review is complete, it is important for the RSA team to finalize any findings and develop suggestions for mitigating safety issues that were identified. Each of these findings and suggestions should be documented in a written report that the RSA team can hand over to the owning agency. Any photographs taken during the site visit that support findings and suggestions should be included in the written report. Overall, however, the report should remain concise and easy to understand.

It is usually beneficial to the owning agency for the RSA team to classify identified safety issues (low, medium, high) based on risk and to classify possible countermeasures based on cost and feasibility. This allows the owning agency to prioritize which issues to address first based on available resources.

4. Present findings to project owner/design team. Depending on time and the nature of the RSA being conducted, the owning agency may desire for the RSA team to present any findings and suggestions in addition to providing the written report. This presentation allows for the owning agency to easily interact with the RSA team and may be presented before or after the final written report is complete.

5. Prepare a formal response. In most instances, the written report of the RSA should produce a formal response from the owning agency. This response allows the owning agency to acknowledge the findings of the RSA. The response also allows the owning agency to document action plans to address the findings and suggestions presented in the report. Some suggestions may be determined to be feasible immediately while others may not be currently possible due to financial constraints or other limiting factors. In some instances, findings or suggestions may be made by the RSA team that the owning agency does not agree with. Documenting a response and appropriate actions offers the owning agency input and protection that may otherwise be overlooked.

6. Incorporate findings into the project when appropriate. Once the RSA team has submitted the final report and the owning agency has had a chance to respond, any suggestions or countermeasures deemed appropriate should be incorporated at the optimal time. Low-cost solutions such as signing, striping and trimming vegetation may be incorporated quickly by internal forces. Other solutions may require contract work be performed while even larger-scale improvements may require a project to be programmed. Implementation, however, is key and the owning agency should act on the findings and suggestions when appropriate in order to ensure the maximum benefit offered by the RSA.