Research Officer, Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research
Ahmad Rodzi Mahmud, Noordin Ahmad
Institute of Advanced Technology, Universiti Putra Malaysia
Road safety audits should occur before, during and after the design and construction stages of all road projects. The road safety audit process is designed to proactively improve road safety through formal independent review of proposed road and traffic plans and through inspection of new and existing roads and traffic operation plans. Increasingly in recent years, road authorities around the world have recognised road safety audits as an effective means of either preventing crashes or reducing their severity (Transport Research Centre, 2008). As more and more countries recognise and legislate road safety audits, it is increasingly obvious that auditing the design aspect of a road alone is not adequate towards creating a safe road environment. Road safety audits are generally detailed into the road design; and the behaviour of its users are often influenced by the infrastructure and system they come to face.
A traffic crash occurs not because of a sole factor such as design failure, rather by a chain of events that helped the crash to occur (Transport Research Centre, 2008). This suggests that a holistic view of the road environment is required in helping transport planners understand the bigger picture of crash occurrence. By incorporating the spatial component, road safety audits can have a macro view of the study area, thus helping improve the safety of a road by integrating aspects of the environment previously overlooked in traditional road safety audits.
Comparison of spatial component in road safety audit
This paper studies the guidelines of road safety audit conducted in Malaysia in comparison to its Australian counterpart. Australia was chosen due to its good track record in road safety and the availability of safety standards within the Australasian region being comparable to European countries. The comparison focuses on value-adding geographic information system within the road safety audit framework rather than on the detailed audit process and stages.
In the Guidelines For The Safety Audit Of Roads And Road Project In Malaysia (JKR Malaysia, 2002), the spatial component is emphasised in Stage 1 Audit (planning and feasibility stage) whereby the planning of major road projects should include a clear statement of the proposed traffic management strategy as this sets the framework for the traffic safety requirements of the project. The road network consideration includes spatial-related analysis, whereby the safety effects of large road projects often extend into the surrounding road network and the effects may be either beneficial or detrimental in terms of road safety. In Stage 1, the audit continues with access control and consideration of its alternatives. The location and type of connections where traffic enters, leaves or crosses the main route and the adequacy of these to serve the adjacent land uses, major traffic generators and developments have critical road safety implications. This portion concentrates on the location, spacing, adequacy and suitability of network connections, thus making Stage 1 Audit as the stage with the most spatial analysis conducted. Unlike the Malaysian guidelines, the Australian Guide To Road Safety Part 6: Road Safety Audit (ARRB Project Team, 2009) stresses that the audit team must provide, at all stages of audit site, data that includes any environmental effects relevant to the location or the design, for example, weather conditions, animals, services, trees, historic buildings and topography. Also to be included in the site data are any other plans to cover adjacent roads or to describe adjacent land and its uses which might be affected by the proposal or by the traffic changes it induces. In the Australian road safety audit, feasibility stage is the stage where the input of fundamental spatial issues that may affect safety such as route choice, impact on and continuity with the existing adjacent network must be included.
For Stage 2 Audit (preliminary design stage) in Malaysia, spatial consideration is in the road safety audit of major land use developments. Land use development ranging in all sizes have significant implications for road safety. The safe and efficient operation of these facilities is as important to their economic viability as it is to the Malaysian road safety objectives. At this stage, the development of a project takes into account various factors that have spatial implication to safety such as transport policy objectives, funding arrangements, availability of right of way, relative usefulness to the community of optional segments, topography, construction difficulties, provision of adequate temporary connections and traffic management implications in respect to capacity and safety. The Guideline also mentions that often, matters of traffic safety are not given sufficient importance in the considerations with the result that accident ‘blackspots’ sometimes develop at the stage terminals as soon as sections of the project are opened to traffic.
Stage 3 Audit (detailed design stage) has no spatial component included, however the implications of space on road safety audit resumes in Stage 4 Audit (during construction and pre-opening of a new project) and Stage 5 Audit (audit of existing roads). The spatial consideration is limited to site inspection where the safety implications of abutting land use and the road network in the near vicinity is considered in line with how it interacts with traffic operations on the road in question.
In contrast to Malaysian guidelines, the Australian road safety audit guide provides for the Audit of Land Use Developments. Land use developments can have an impact on the roads they connect with or another road some distance away. It states that the greatest road safety gains can be achieved if audits are conducted on all strategic plans, every town planning (land use development) application of significant size, every application which interacts directly with an arterial road or other significant traffic route and every application where significant numbers of pedestrians or cyclists are nearby. There are also efforts by the Australian road safety auditors to incorporate road safety audit into the town planning approvals process, although clear procedures are yet to be established. The Australian audit guide recommends that the audit of a development be done separately from any traffic impact assessment as these assessments are usually part of the design process and are not independent.
Some road authorities in Australia seek to conduct a road safety audit of their whole road network on a regular basis(ARRB Project Team, 2009). This is a clear example of best practice that considers the spatial aspect to be part of the solution to a safety problem. Additionally, the Australian procedure of road safety audit seeks for a more intelligent way to select which roads should be audited or mitigated first based on injury data by using risk mapping as a tool.
If a parallel comparison of the Malaysian road safety audit process is made with its Australian counterpart, there are some obvious deficiencies that can be identified when discussing on the inclusion of spatial analysis within the audit. In Malaysia, based on the guideline, the road safety audit lays importance solely on the road design as the pillar of providing safety to road users. Road design is undoubtedly important as part of traffic engineering as a whole; however as GIS technology progresses the field of transport planning may be value-added by incorporating spatial aspects into the road safety audit process. As road safety is obviously a multi-faceted problem that has to be mitigated using multi-disciplinary approaches, it becomes clear that what used to be the domain of only one field has to be open to other methods for more creative interventions.
However, it must be acknowledged that the Malaysian audit guideline’s last publication update is seven years behind Australia; thus within that time period there is vast development in GIS applications which is not included in writing for public circulation but may already be in current practice by the Malaysian authorities.
Challenges and future improvement of spatial aspect in road safety
The first challenge for Malaysia in including spatial component in the road safety audit is the availability of a road safety audit guideline that can help auditors include spatial analysis. Currently, the Malaysian road safety audit guideline does not include many aspects of spatial; instead it concentrates on the road design elements. The guideline covers this extensively and lays heavy importance on detailed design within a stage-by-stage audit.
Where its Australian counterpart is moving away from such rigid audit structure by including other types of road safety audit such as the Audit of Land Use Development and Road User Group Audit, the Malaysian guideline is very much within the traditional zone. The second challenge is the inclusion of GIS know-how in the audit process. In a practical sense, the cost implication of additional knowledge expertise incurred may deter the audit process from being carried out at localities where there is less funding available. However, the GIS processes used in the audit process may be very basic and not require expert knowledge. Basic application of GIS can be a skill learnt by any profession to value-add the road safety audit report.
The third challenge is to match the relevant spatial processes with the goals or objectives of a particular stage of audit. There needs to be a balance between value-adding spatial analysis into a road safety audit and an analysis of road design elements. The role of a spatial component is to enhance, not overshadow the importance of engineering design in road safety.
Systemically, there needs to be awareness that a road safety audit is inadequate to solve the safety issue of a road if confined to road design aspect alone. Many inherent road design elements greatly affect behavior; thus consideration of spatial aspect in road safety helps to shift views towards a macro level. The spatial relationships of objects within the road environment are great contributors to the safety level of a road.