July 21, 2024
Industry News

Road engineers criticized for creating hazardous conditions, professor demands accountability

A crucial responsibility of a traffic engineer is to enhance safety on the road: creating a safer environment for all road users, including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, who are unfortunately involved in accidents and fatalities on the highways every year.

In an article published on The Conversation website by Wesley Marshall, a civil engineering professor at the University of Colorado, the author argues that traffic engineers share a significant responsibility for these accidents and injuries by overlooking the true causes behind them.

The piece is titled, “Traffic engineers construct roads that encourage accidents due to their reliance on outdated research and flawed data.”

Marshall writes, “We underestimate our role in perpetuating negative outcomes and fail to recognize how improved engineering can contribute to designing safer communities and streets.“

He challenges the common notion of attributing fault for crashes to road users’ errors, such as pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists, despite a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stating that road user error is the “critical reason” behind 94 percent of crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

Marshall questions, “How many of those fatalities do we attribute to large vehicles or poor road design? Very few. Crash investigations typically focus on identifying which road users, whether drivers, pedestrians, or cyclists, are primarily at fault.”

According to Marshall, the crash data often absolve traffic engineers, planners, and policymakers of responsibility “for fostering a transportation system where reliance on cars is the primary mode of transportation for most Americans.”

However, Marshall argues that the true responsibility often lies with them.

He states, “When traffic engineers construct excessively wide streets resembling freeways, and a speeding driver in a large vehicle crashes, the blame is placed on the driver for speeding. When inadequate crosswalks are provided at long intervals, and a pedestrian is hit by a speeding driver, blame is assigned to one or both parties in the official crash report. Even with automakers producing massive vehicles equipped with distracting features, the crash data tend to attribute fault to the road users for most negative outcomes.”

Marshall suggests potential solutions, including reevaluating the analysis of crash data and prevailing beliefs.

He concludes, “Determining the primary at-fault party may be beneficial for law enforcement and insurance purposes, but it does not offer valuable insights to transportation engineers, planners, policymakers, or automakers on how they can improve. Furthermore, this approach has prevented them from recognizing their potential mistakes.”

You can read the full essay here.

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