Combatting road accidents: International co-operation in road traffic safety research

Combatting road accidents: International co-operation in road traffic safety research

Acr~ 4an/. & ~ VoW.7, pp 11_1-119 Perlpm'ton Pros 19'5 Ihantcd 'n Great Brtnun COMBATTING ROAD ACCIDENTS: INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION IN ROAD TRA...

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Acr~ 4an/. & ~

VoW.7, pp 11_1-119 Perlpm'ton Pros 19'5

Ihantcd 'n Great Brtnun




INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION IN ROAD TRAFFIC SAFETY RESEARCH* B. E. HORN Organisationfor EconomicCo-operationand Development,Paris. France (Receired 12June 1974)

Since 1968, the Road Research Programme of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (O.E.C.D.) has provided a thorough assessment of the options available for combatting road accidents which include an array of specific measures and techniques regarding accident prevention and victim protection. The Programme is administered by the O.E.C.D. Steering Committee for Road Research of which twenty-two countries* are members; it establishes international expert groups and directs them in the preparation of the scientific and technological basis needed by O.E.C.D. Member governments for decision-making on the most urgent road traffic safety problems. Almost all O.E.C.D. countries have now created central agencies or administrations to develop and implement road safety action programmes and a number of countries have set up central traffic safety research institutes or departments. Some break-throughs have occurred within the last few years; certain countries have had slight reductions or only limited increases in the number of road fatalities and distinct decreases in accident rates. These slight improvements are probably due to intensified governmental action and the activities of road safety associations, an increased public consciousness and last but not least, to an increased research effort. The goals of road safety research can be easily defined: reduction of accidents and their severity. Research activities are programmed in accordance with the functions to be fulfilled: accident prevention, victim protection and post crash assistance. Systems of evaluation are also needed to assess the efficiency or cost/benefits of the various solutions envisaged. Within this analytical framework the O.E.C.D. road safety studies can be classified as follows: --analytical concepts and statistical techniques to enhance knowledge of accident causation; --ways and means of influencing road user behaviour; --techniques to achieve and maintain a high degree of safety of certain road characteristics; --legislative controls and enforcement. TOWARDS IMPROVED INTERNATIONAL ACCIDENT STATISTICS Reliable accident statistics are an indispensable tool in traffic safety research, are important for policy decisions and contribute towards a better public understanding and awareness of the road safety problem. They provide a rational justification for particular remedial measures and are also useful in carrying out an assessment of the effects and benefits of safety measures. Recognising the importance of statistical methods in road accident analysis, the O.E.C.D. Road Research Programme sponsored a Symposium to evaluate existing statistical methodology and analytical techniques and to contribute to the improvement of the usefulness of present accident statistics [O.E.C.D., 19701. As a result of this Symposium a number of countries undertook a reassessment of their accident statistics systems and developed co-operative schemes with motor vehicles insurers. Internationally, a great deal of work still remains to be done, for instance the establishment of an internationally standardised accident reporting and recording system, the generalised use of the system of accident definitions set up by the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, and the collection of reliable and compatible traffic and travel data in each country. Table I provides some information on road accidents in O.E.C.D. Member countries. *The Membersof the O.E.C.D. Road ResearchProgrammeare Austria. Belgium,Canada. Denmark,Finland, France,the Federal Republicof Germany,Greece,Iceland,Ireland.Italy,Japan, Luxemburg.the Netherlands,Norway,Portugal,Spain, Sweden, Switzerland. Turkey.the United Kingdomand the United States. 113


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Table I. General description of the road safety problem in some OECD member countries*** {Accidentfigures for 19701

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*2-wheeled motor vehicles excluded from the vehicle kilometre figures. **Main economic indicators. OECD. Oct.. 1972. ***See OECD Reporton Researchon TrafficLaw Enfi,rce,,ent (Paris. April 1974)for moredetails regardingdefinitionsand the conversion performed on the number of fatal accidents reported by those countries not employingthe UN/ECE definitions.

IMPROVING ROAD USER BEHAVIOUR Driver behaviour Continuous review and assessment of results of driver psychology research is needed in order to complement the efforts of road safety bodies and improve the usefulness of national programmes such ,'ts: --driver training and education methods, programmes and schools including the evaluation of selection methods for driving instructors and the assessment of their performances; --driver selection programmes and licensing agencies; --traffic schools for retraining and driver remedial clinics; --road safety campaigns, i.e. the use of mass media communications for the control of road user behaviour; --law enforcement programmes including traffic court and policy procedures; ---design of traffic control devices and highway features, taking particular account of human factors. A recent survey of national road research trends and priorities conducted by the O.E.C.D. Road Research Secretariat showed that substantial progress in the field of driver psychology has been made and that the level of emphasis on applied driver behaviour research has been considerably increased. However, it is also clear that work on the theories and models of accident causation that focus upon the human factor should be promoted [Wilde et al., 1971]. Driver performance: preparation and decision making Greater knowledge of the processes involved in road user perception and decision making could ultimately lead to significant reductions in the frequency and severity of traffic accidents. Research into road user perception and decision making is particularly intricate as it involves the study of the complex relationships between the road user, the vehicle and the road. A Symposium was organised to review and collate existing scientific information on this subject and to determine the applicability of present research results to road and vehicle design [O.E.C.D., 1972a]. At the Symposium, the discussion showed that in most cases the time available in which to provide a solution to a particular safety problem is strictly limited. Therefore, in the absence of


C o m b a t t i n g road accidenh,

scientifically-based solutions the administrations are virtually obliged to accept purely intuitive engineering or legislative solutions which are far from ideal but which can be implemented quickly. Once adopted, such measures are difficult to modify. Possibly the most constructive outcome of the Symposium was a plea for the creation of a new breed of road researchers in this area of work who are more concerned with the application of their work and who are able to operate in much closer collaboration with road administrators and engineers. This would allow those more interested in the fundamental aspects of research to pursue their long term goals without being subject to the pressures of being required to produce immediate solutions to problems.

Young drivers Statistics show that road accidents are the leading cause of death in the 15-24 year age group. For example in the United Kingdom in 1970. young drivers of 17-24 years had an accident involvement that was three times the average rate. This figure highlights the need for special countermeasures. A review of research and possible preventive action was undertaken by an O.E.C.D. Road Research Group and the report will be published in late 1974. The problem of accidents involving young drivers is extremely complex. Lack of driving experience and driving skill are determining factors. Additionally. social and cultural relations, attitudes towards road traffic, tendency towards over-compensation, relations between general criminality and traffic delinquency, and the choice of vehicle may contribute to the higher accident rates of young drivers. In particttlar the report recommends special legal measures--licensing, probationary period, speed limits, etc.--and improvements in driving instruction and driver training and puts forward a comprehensive framework for medium and long term action programme.

Pedestrian protection In the United States it is estimated that nearly one in every five persons killed in traffic accidents is a pedestrian: in urban areas the corresponding figure is two in every five [Anon, 19731. Each year about 4(}(},0(}0 people are struck by vehicles in the United States. A similar high accident toll prevails in Japan and in some European countries. in view of the particular importance of pedestrian accidents involving especially the very young and the very old, a study was carried out by an O.E.C.D. Road Research Group whose final report identified the major countermeasures available (see Table 2). On the basis of this report, a large consortium of Member countries agreed to co-ordinate their national research programmes

Table 2, Pede,trian accident countcrmea,curc,~ Pre-crash Separation of


The Human Factor

ConflicttnK Driver

Improve=entof ConfllcttnR



Selection of driver8

?ratntn~ and




education Propaganda techniques


LeRtatatton and Enforcement

VehicLe f a c t o r

Elimination of certain types V e h i c l e of vehicles or llfhttnR vehicle featuree Pedestrian bridges and

underp~isses SIKnal cont r o l l e d pedeetrLan Road and Traffic factor

¢rosetnfs Pedeetrlan preclncta and other g e n e r a l measure8 o f se~re~tin~ pedestrian and v e h i c l e movement8

Pedestrian refuges Pmrri~ra

:Crossings ITrafftc signs :Road


Redesign of vuhic~e~i

Emerge~cy aid Systems


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in particular with regard to pedestrian exposure to risk and pedestrian crossing facilities [Biehl et al., 1%91. Safety campaigns Amongst the available countermeasures to reduce road accidents, mass publicity has become a commonly applied mode of action. Safety campaigns may focus on public information, on producing or strengthening desirable road user attitudes or on particular driving behaviour. The use of safety publicity is however not without its problems and the results of several road safety campaigns have shown them to have had little or no effectiveness, in many cases not at all commensurate with the efforts and resources deployed. The report on safety campaigns identifies the inadequacies in the design and planning of past campaigns, assesses their effectiveness and suggests a systematic approach to campaign design and evaluation (see Fig. l),[Wilde et al., 19711. IOENTIF]CATK~N OFTHE

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Fig. I.

[t is concluded that a major safety campaign should not be launched without being accompanied by appropriate scientific research. Preparatory research and pretests should be carried out; careful preplanning is an essential requirement. The success of a safety campaign is not necessarily in proportion to the magnitude of the efforts made nor of course the enthusiasm or good intentions of the campaign organisers. Consequently. an O.E.C.D. project was launched in 1973 to produce a design manual for safety campaigns giving practical guidance to those with responsibility for the launching of campaigns and those involved in their design and organisation. ENHANCING VEHICI,E SAF['TY There have been considerable developments over the last five years in this field. Mainly at the instigation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States, worldwide attention has been concentrated on measures to improve crash survivability, especi;dly to the development of active and passive restraint systems for the protection of car occupants. Research has also been undertaken to decrease the severity of front and rear collisions by testing various energy absorbing structures and to develop special measures for side intrusion protection. Biomechanics o[ aut, mohi/e accidents A first analysis of research priorities in this field was undertaken in 1968-69 by an O.E.C.D. Road Research Group. Almost all O.E.C.D. countries now recognise the importance of increasing safety belt usage and several countries have adopted compulsory measures or launched



information campaigns to increase the level of safety belt usage. However, the airbag, a typical active restraint, into which major development efforts have been put, is still under study. As a result of this O.E.C.D. project the leading European crash impact laboratories have set up an International Research Committee on Biokinetics of Impacts (IRCOBI) with the object of initiating co-operative research on accident kinematics, human tolerance and certain vehicle safety features.

Lighting The O.E.C.D. report on lighting, visibility and accidents draws attention to the fact that a substantial proportion of road accidents particularly the more serious ones, occur during the hours of darkness [O.E.C.D., 1971]. Much has already been achieved in the field of international standardisation of vehicle lights. Nevertheless it is in some ways incomplete. For example in the case of headlamps, standardisation has not been centred on a single type of beam distribution: the ECE Geneva Agreement specifies one beam distribution and the U.S. Society of Automotive Engineers another. Some countries permit both to be used. Probably the most promising solution to the glare problem would be to introduce a polarised headlight system. Such systems have been available in principle for some time but have yet to be used in large scale trials although such trials have been suggested on a number of occasions. To this end an ad hoc Committee on the Application of Polarised Headlights (CAP) has been set up within the framework of the 1974 O.E.C.D. Road Research Programme with the object of preparing a detailed public test programme to be carried out on a co-operative basis internationally.

Winter driving A growing demand for improved driving conditions during the winter period has led to the more widespread use of snow and ice clearance measures and to an increased use of special vehicle equipment for winter driving, the latter creating enormous economic losses due to the damage they cause to road pavements. These subjects were studied by two O.E.C.D. Road Research Groups [O.E.C.D,, 1969; O.E.C.D., 1972d1. In particular, a number of countries have been concerned with the effects of studded tyres. While it is true that studded tyres reduce stopping distances and (if fitted on all wheels) improve cornering capability considerably on ice near 0°C, there is no proof that they contribute to safety in general. Regulations permitting, limiting or prohibiting the use of studded tyres must be based on technical, economic and safety considerations. On the basis of the O.E.C.D. conclusions several countries have now restricted or prohibited the use of these tyres; the recent accident statistics of the Province of Ontario where studded tyres have been forbidden show some improvement in safety for the winter 1972-73. IMPROVING HIGHWAY SAFETY Detailed recommendations on improving the degree of safety of certain road design and traffic control features were put forward by several O.E.C.D. Road Research Groups working in the fields of road construction and road traffic. These recommendations concern design of two-lane roads, traffic operation on motorways and highway corridors, design of road junctions, safety at construction sites, street lighting, road markings and signing, roadside obstacles and crash barriers. Substantial progress in these fields has been made in recent years and the continuously increasing proportions of national road budgets devoted to safety improvements in the road network evidence the growing weight given in O.E.C.D. countries to road safety measures. ENHANCING ROAD SAFETY BY LEGAL CONTROLS AND ENFORCEMENT MEASURES Studies in this area have centred on the effects of alcohol and drugs on road user behaviour and accidents, speed limits and the enforcement of traffic legislation in general.

Alcohol and drugs Many countries all over the world have now implemented the recommendation put forward by the O.E.C.D. Road Research Group on Alcohol and Drugs recommending the enactment of legislation which makes it an offence to drive when one's blood-alcohol content exceeds

0.08% [Goldberg and Hazard, 1971]. For instance, in the United Kingdom after the enactment of this legislation, a 15 per cent decrease in road deaths was experienced in the first year after introduction and a 10 per cent decrease after two years, reductions which to a large degree can be attributed to the legislative enactment. Alcohol countermeasures continue to be considered as a priority research area and it is estimated that the use of alcohol by drivers and pedestrians contributes from 15-50 per cent of road deaths in various O.E.C.D. Member countries. In 1971-72 co-operative research efforts were undertaken by the above O.E.C.D. Group in order to study drinking behaviour by means of roadside surveys and to develop portable breath measurement equipment. The role of drugs lincluding medicines) as a causation factor in traffic accidents is less clear. There is increasing public concern about the adequacy of existing legislation to control the problem. Such legislation should be based on firm scientific evidence and there is a need to assess available research information at an international level.

Speed limits Evidence from several Member countries (with or without general speed limits) indicates that average speeds have been increasing at a rate of about 1.5 km/h per year [O.E.C.D., 1972cl. Results reported from nearly all countries support the conclusion that where speeds have been reduced by speed limits there has been an overall reduction in accidents or casualties, but in a few instances where speeds were unaffected by speed limitations there was no appreciable change in accidents [O.E.C.D., 1972bl. Some of the speed limit progranames were. however, more in the nature of administrative exercises than scientifically designed experiments and the methods of analysis in these cases were deficient from the statistical point of view. Becatlse of the weaknesses in the experimental designs of many investigations, scientifically well-established conclusions cannot be drawn. The quantitative measurement of accident redt,ction, the adverse ctt'cct,~ of the speed limit (such as travel time, formation of vehicle platoons, etc.) and the benefits and costs stemming from speed limits, require further investigation. For these reasons, a detailed research programme on the effects of speed limits outside built-up areas has been established by the O.E.C.D. Road Research Group dealing with this problem. This test programme could bc used by national or international bodies to ascertain the effects of changes in speed limit policies, for instance following the introduction of a new speed regulation, alteration of an existing speed limit or changes in the level of police enforcement [O.E.C.D., 19741.

Tra~c Idw enfl~rcement It would appear from a review of the research literature that enforcement policies and procedures have little foundation in research and those concerned tend to rely more upon expertise. Where research has been conducted it has led to conflicting findings: enforcement seems to be effective in some cases but not in others. The general conclusion based on previous experimental work is that there is an air of uncertainty surrounding tra~c law enforcement as a means of effecting the safe and efficient movement of traffic. This is due to the almost total lack of research into the effects of many components of the traffic enforcement system and their interactions. It is stressed that if scientifically valid data were available, more effective enforcement policies could be established. FUTURE O.E.C.D. ACTIVITIES The full impact of many of the national traffic safety research and action programmes has not yet become apparent. In spite of some encouraging results, the death and injury toll due to road accidents and the economic losses associated with them are still of an order of magnitude which justifies further substantial investments in road and vehicle safety measures and increased research efforts aimed at making legislative and regulatory policies more effective and accentuating the influence of training and education on road user behaviour. Consequently, in the framework of the third triennial O.E,C.D. Road Research Programme priority has been given to traffic safety and the following four Research Groups commenced work in March 1974 to pursue the activities in this area: --Group on driver education and training;



--Group on driving in reduced visibility conditions due to adverse weather; --Group on hazardous road locations, their identification and elimination; --Ad hoc Committee on the Application of Polarised Headlights (CAP).

REFERENCES Anon.. TrafficSafety "72. U.S. Department of Transportation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. October. 1973. Biehl B. M, Older S. J. and Gricp D. J. PedestrianSafety.O.E.C.D., Paris. I%9. Goldber L., and Havard J. D. J., Alcohol and Drugs. O.E.C.D. Paris, 1971. O.E.C.D. Lighting Visibilityand Accidents.O.E.C.D., Paris, 1971. O.E.C.D. Motor VehicleCorrosion and Influenceof De-icing Chemicals.O.E.C.D.. Paris. I%9. O.E.C.D. Proceedings.PercezioneE Presa Di DecisioneDa Parte Dell "UtenteDella Strada, Rome. 1972a. O.E.C.D. Proceedings.Symposium on the Use of StatisticalMethods in the Analysis of Road Accidents.Paris. 1970. O.E.C.D. Research on TrafficLaw Enforcement. O.E.C.D., Paris, 1974. O.E.C.D. Speed Limits Outside Built-upAreas. Paris. 1972b. O.E.C.D. T~'o.laneRural Roads: Design and TrafficF/o~'. O.E.C,D., Paris. 1972c. O.E.C.D. Winter Damage to Road Pavements. O.E.CD.. Paris, 1972d. Wilde G. J. S.. L'Hoste J..Sheppard D., and Wind G. Road SafetyCampaigns: Designand Evaluation.O.E.C.D., Paris. 197l.