Fatal crashes on our region’s roadways have increased each year since 2015, a disturbing turnaround from the dramatic decline in annual fatalities between 2005 and 2013. Several times each week local media publishes disturbing reports about fatal crashes on our roadways. It is no coincidence that roadway safety has been on the TPB’s agenda more often recently.
Safety Targets Raise Awareness
Public concern about the increasing death toll on our roadways resonates with TPB members and TPB staff and helps to raise the profile of highway safety among transportation officials. In addition to the public’s interest, a recently enacted federal regulation is putting roadway safety front and center at the TPB. This regulation requires the TPB, as well as all other metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) across the country, to set data-driven (meaning not aspirational) targets each year for five safety performance measures, including the number of fatalities.
TPB staff, working with safety officials at our member departments of transportation (DOTs) and in consultation with the Transportation Safety Subcommittee an the TPB Technical Committee, develop a set of staff-recommended safety targets that are data-driven and consistent with analysis of DOT safety data and projections. These recommended targets are brought to the TPB for discussion, modified as needed based on TPB direction, and officially adopted by the board.
The TPB held a discussion about safety targets
TPB members engaged in a robust discussion before adopting the staff-recommended targets at their January 2019 meeting. Members expressed concern about the fact that fatalities have been increasing in the region. Some board members pushed for the targets to be more aggressive, while others agreed that while they wanted to adopt more aggressive targets, it was important to first implement strategies to reduce fatal crashes. There was considerable interest among board members in the safety study and the board requested regular updates on the study’s progress and findings. As part of its resolution establishing the safety targets, the board asked for briefings from the three state DOTs about their safety programs and plans to improve roadway safety. This means that a safety item will be on the TPB agenda for most of its meetings in 2019, highlighting the importance board members place on improving roadway safety in the region.
The TPB commissions a safety study
The TPB has commissioned a consultant-led study to better understand the factors behind the increase in fatalities experienced across the region. The study will begin with a thorough analysis of our region’s highway safety data and will include a review of crash contributing factors such as driver behavior, roadway conditions, vehicle types, time of day, weather, and roadway type, among others.
The second part of the study will use the findings from the safety data analysis to identify the types of actions (projects, strategies, and/or policies) that the TPB or its member jurisdictions can take to reduce fatalities. The TPB will hear periodic updates about the status and findings of this study as it progresses so stay tuned!
State Departments of Transportation Provide Safety Reports to the TPB
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) was the first member DOT to speak to the TPB about their safety program. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will speak to the board at the April TPB meeting, followed by the Maryland Department of Transportation in May.
For each presentation, TPB staff requested that the DOTs provide an overview of their safety programs, talk about the factors contributing to their fatal and serious injury crashes, and discuss their approaches to reduce them.
As the safety study gets underway the board will receive periodic updates on its status as well as any interim findings. When the report is completed, the TPB will receive a review of the findings and recommendations from staff on specific actions the board, and its member jurisdictions, can take to help reduce fatal and serious injury crashes.
TPB staff will also review the findings to determine if there are areas that would benefit from further consultant-led studies.
The next set of annual roadway safety targets will be discussed and adopted by the TPB in late 2019 or early 2020.
Jon Schermann is a TPB Transportation Planner. He works on roadway safety and regional freight issues.