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When you don’t know the root-cause of a problem, it can be difficult to find a solution to it. We discussed this issue in a recent blog post, where we saw how certain highway locations can remain dangerous for years even as efforts are made to improve them. That’s why, in Part Six of this series, we present an additional process to help improve roadway locations: one that seeks to identify the cause behind the crashes.
This program was developed at the Sandy Johnson Foundation to assist highway officials in quickly identifying the underlying causes of crashes so that a solution can be implemented in a matter of days.
This process has been deployed with success several times. The primary goal is to learn why a crash took place by getting inside the mind of the driver or drivers involved, immediately following the crash, if possible. Once this “Why?” of a crash has been determined, a low-cost solution can soon follow. Here’s how it works.
Interview involved drivers
After responding to a crash, law enforcement completes a Traffic Crash Report and takes down statements from witnesses and those involved. Following current guidelines, statements taken from drivers are typically based around learning “what happened,” but our process also looks to find out “why”. Learning why a driver did something (and how that may have contributed to the crash) is crucial to preventing future incidents.
Study the site
The next step is to focus on the crash site. This involves looking for things that could potentially cause confusion for a driver who is unfamiliar with the area. Are the traffic control signs visible and easily understood? Are they present both at the site and on the approach to it? When stopped at an intersection, is the approaching traffic clearly visible from all directions?
Interview knowledgeable authorities
Next, it is important to meet with law enforcement and EMT personnel who have been actively involved with crashes at the site. Ask for their opinion of the cause behind the crashes taking place. If possible, interview local residents, as well, as they may have additional insights about what is causing the crashes.
Study traffic crash reports
After completing these interviews, it’s time to review existing traffic crash reports from the site. Often, a crash pattern can be identified which can provide vital information about the site. For example, if drivers traveling from a particular direction are typically the ones causing crashes, they are likely experiencing it was most likely mental compromise and inattentional blindness causing the crashes at this site, as the drivers weren’t expecting to have to stop. My suggestion was to have rumble strips added on the approach to the intersection and to make sure signs acknowledging the traffic light were clearly in view of the driver after the rumble strips were crossed.
Several months later, the father told me that he had approached a state representative who worked with the state’s department of transportation to make those modifications. Years later, I contacted him again and he told me that, to his knowledge, no other crashes had taken place at that intersection. A simple, low-cost solution, which could have been implemented years earlier, finally ended the fatal and life-changing injuries taking place at that site.
Throughout this evaluation process, it is important to keep in mind the problems created by Driver Conditioning, which can keep a driver from focusing on their environment. In Part Seven, we will summarize this series and bring to a close the topic of Driver Conditioning—the underlying cause of nearly all vehicular crashes.
DriveitHOME™ is an initiative of the National Safety Council, designed by and for parents of newly licensed teen drivers. DriveitHOME™ offers free resources parents can use to help their teen build experience to become safer drivers.
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