Legal Problems Arising out of Highway Programs. Topic 27-05. Addressing Liability Issues of Proactive Safety Improvements

Traditional methods to identify and prioritize locations for traffic safety improvements are reactive. These methods identify locations with high collision rates and features at these locations causing the collisions. This allows transportation agencies to target areas for which funding can be sought to make safety improvements based primarily on past collision history. An alternative method to improve traffic safety is to use cumulative collision data to identify the types of locations and road features shown by cumulative collision data to be highly correlated with collision frequency. In new construction, the cumulative collision data can be used to select designs and road features having lower collision probabilities. For existing roads, the proactive data can be used to analyze roads to identify collision-prone locations and features for remediation. The proactive approach allows transportation agencies to identify problems and possible improvements before a history of collisions and injuries accrues. The tort liability problem arising from adopting proactive safety analysis of roads is similar to the concerns that arose with the publication of the AASHTO Highway Safety Manual (HSM). The HSM also used amalgamated collision data to predict which road design elements correlate with higher collision experience. The concern was that plaintiffs would use the HSM to support claims current roads are not “reasonably safe,” leading to enormous new liability for public roads. HSM authors ultimately included language in parts of the manual that tried to limit misuse of the HSM to establish liability for roads constructed before the manual was available to guide their design. Something similar might be needed for new publications espousing more advanced proactive road safety analysis. This problem is not solved by 23 USC 407. Section 407 prevents the use of road safety data and reports in accident litigation if these materials are compiled or created to analyze improvements to roads eligible for federal improvement funds. Section 407 does not cover manuals and guidelines developed to accomplish the same purpose. Research is needed to analyze the reasons for and extent of the challenge tort liability could create for transportation agencies adopting a proactive safety approach to design new roads and improve existing roads. The objective of this research is to address the issues facing transportation agencies adopting a proactive safety approach to the design of new roads and the improvement of the existing ones.


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  • Status: Proposed
  • Funding: $150000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 20-06, Topic 27-05

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Chisholm-Smith, Gwen

  • Start Date: 20231109
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01887175
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 20-06, Topic 27-05
  • Files: TRB, RIP
  • Created Date: Jul 11 2023 10:01AM