Iteris’ John Lower reveals how international transportation bodies are approaching the integration of vulnerable road users into their safety initiatives.
Pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders are no longer the only vulnerable road users traveling through cities and urban streets. In 2019, e-scooters, hover boards and Segway shoes have emerged as increasingly popular personal transportation alternatives for short journeys. But with this popularity comes a responsibility on cities, states and countries to redouble efforts to accommodate VRUs into their transportation safety programs.
Fortunately, there are several initiatives from around the world that serve as examples of the collection, analysis and use of data to optimize their respective transportation networks for all road users.
The European Standard
In the European Union, the Safety CaUsation, Benefits and Efficiency – or SafetyCube – road safety research was funded by the European Commission to develop an innovative road safety decision support system (DSS). The goal was to enable policymakers and stakeholders to implement the most appropriate and cost-effective strategies to reduce casualties of all road user types in Europe and worldwide.
According to SafetyCube, the initiative has been a success thus far, but a doubling down of efforts will be required to gather and act upon more accurate data.
“The more developed information systems are associated with higher road safety performance and are a direct sign of advanced road safety culture,” says SafetyCube. “Road safety information systems are key management tools for developing road safety capacity and engaging stakeholders, not only for providing scientific evidence but also for monitoring efforts. They should be multiplied and upgraded for more accurate exposure data and performance indicators – measures and policies effectiveness evaluation.”[i]
The American Way
Across the pond, the United States is also looking to make progress in its national road safety performance, especially where VRUs are concerned. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent federal agency charged by Congress to investigate significant accidents and issuing safety recommendations, released its Pedestrian Safety Special Investigative Report in 2018 to address the continuing increase in pedestrian fatalities as a percent of motor vehicle fatalities. The report’s finding were clear cut: pedestrian fatalities grew from 11.4% in 2007 to 16% in 2016.
As a result, the NTSB has called for the implementation of a comprehensive strategy to reduce speeding related crashes, as higher vehicle speeds are strongly associated with both a greater likelihood of VRU crashes and more serious and fatal VRU injuries. Now under review by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the NTSB recommendations include requiring crash statistics and VRU use to be analyzed as part of an expert system assessment of appropriate speed limit setting, and the incorporation of the safe system approach for urban roads.[ii]
Image source: FHWA
The Safe Systems Approach
The safe systems approach emphasizes that some degree of roadway user error will always occur, and that such errors should not result in a fatality or serious injury. With this approach, speed limits are set according to the crash types most likely to occur. The primary criterion is the safety of all road users, including VRUs. This approach usually results in lower speed limits than those that would be determined by the engineering and expert system approaches. Tactics such as traffic calming, physical separation of roadway users, and treatments that enhance VRU visibility to give drivers greater reaction time are safe systems. A safe systems approach requires a holistic planning of the roads and interconnected factors provide for optimal safety. The safe systems approach is an ideal approach for many urban roads and to strengthen protection for vulnerable users.[i]
Efforts to reduce speeding on streets with VRU activity are a major focus of many Vision Zero programs, which emphasize intensified traffic engineering measures. Innovative agencies are exploring smart sensor options to quantify VRU use on roadways and communicate suggested variable speed limits, including explanations of why reduced speeds are suggested (e.g., high VRU activity ahead). This takes advantage of the increasing connectivity being built into new vehicles, which communicate posted speed limits on the vehicle instrument panel.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s strategic plan for 2019-2022 sets a roadmap for improved safety by integrating traditional data sources with new, external data sources, growing data analysis capabilities, and promoting the use of data to better understand safety risk. This plan encourages partners to use data-driven safety analysis methods and tools for decision making, including data management and data governance.
This approach complements the Vision Zero Network guidance for agencies to deploy technology to collect, analyze and use data to impact both initial priorities and resource decisions, and the ongoing evolution and reporting of a Vision Zero program.
The Bottom Line
In the age of data, there is exponentially more VRU-related data out there that, when collected, analyzed and used to its full potential, could help city, state, national and international transportation bodies reduce rising VRU injuries and fatalities.
About the Author
John Lower is Associate Vice President, Roadway Sensors at Iteris.
Connect with John on LinkedIn.
[i] George Yannis, Professor NTU, Athens | Road safety data, knowledge and decision making systems in the digital era. https://www.safetycube-project.eu/wp-content/uploads/SafetyCube-ITFsummit2018-Pres-Yannis.pdf
[ii] Ivan Cheung, PhD, National Transportation Safety Board, https://login.filesanywhere.com/fs/v.aspx?v=8c696a8a5d6175b0a49b