Whither traffic safety? An ethics issue

I considered putting this in Failures and Disasters, since it’s to me, a systemic failure in the Civil Engineering discipline, and 100 fatalities per day in the US alone is certainly a disaster. I also considered Business and Ethics, since it is also an ethical issue. Maybe I should have.

I’m currently reviewing a proposal for professional services for the redesign of an intersection. The “Traffic Assessment” section discusses data collection and operation performance assessment. Nowhere does it even mention the safety effects of the new design! However, doesn’t this at least warrant some discussion in the report?

This is a common occurrence. At least in my part of the US, a lot of effort goes into traffic operations (capacity and delay) evaluations, but safety is often omitted from highway design reports. At the end of the day, however, isn’t whether people using the road get home safely more important than whether an extra lane will save them a few seconds?

The AASHTO Highway Safety Manual is approaching it’s tenth year. The Interactive Highway Safety Design Model (IHSDM) is probably 15 years old. Why aren’t they in general use yet?

Why do we, as a profession, think delay is more important than safety? I think it’s ethically indefensible given the safety analysis tools are readily available. IHSDM is even free.

How do we change this?

Can your associations take this to issue when the next code review comes up? or is your association as useful as ours is?


I agree that safety effects should be included in a traffic assessment of a highway intersection. We can change this by pointing it out to those responsible for making decisions. If that doesn’t work, it may be necessary to go public with your concerns. Needless to say, this may not sit well with your client.

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I’m the county traffic engineer, which gives me some influence on the matter. However, planning and zoning are controlled at the city/village/ township level in our state, so they pretty much run the circus.