Mendocino County, California, reduced traffic crashes by 42 percent on many of its roadways over a six-year period through a series of low-cost measures. That success is serving as a model for counties in Texas and across the nation in an effort to reduce crashes.
Nationally, some 42,000 persons were killed in 2003 on roadways, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Texas, 3,675 people were killed in 2003. The economic impact of those crashes was $19.8 billion in Texas and more than $230 billion nationally.
Across the United States, an additional 3 million people are injured in crashes each year. Some 300,000 are seriously injured in Texas crashes annually.
Representatives from 42 states, including Texas, and Puerto Rico recently attended a seminar to learn from the California county. Efforts are underway to put these methods into practice in Texas.
Mendocino County is located about 100 miles north of San Francisco and has a population of 80,000. It is a semi-mountainous to mountainous area with winding roads and switchbacks. The county’s efforts focused on two-lane, two-way roads.
Practical Ways to Increase Road Safety
Lavaca County Commissioner Charles Netardus, who attended the seminar, describes the methodology as a “common sense, reasonable approach” to traffic safety. The goal is to give drivers adequate information as they approach potentially hazardous locations.
The Mendocino County project began with a road safety review process by the county’s engineers. They studied crashes countywide over a five-year period, said William R. Lowery, PE, a traffic engineer with the Texas Engineering Extension Service who also attended the seminar.
The engineers looked at the roads where the most crashes occurred, driving the stretches where the crashes took place. Crash data was pulled, Lowery said, and a systematic review of the road was undertaken to look for crash patterns, taking into account the factors in a crash: driver/opposing driver, vehicle condition, weather (acts of God), and road condition. The primary focus was on what could be done about road conditions.
“What can I do something about?” is how Lowery described the approach taken by the engineers. “If a drunk driver was involved, maybe nothing,” he said. “But if a driver ran off a curve, maybe the signs or object markers could be changed.”
Thus began the implementation of the project, which included the placement of advisory signs on curves and marking of other hazards where there were none or the improvement or relocation of existing signs. Recommended speed limits were added in some cases, and the sight distance was checked at crash sites.
All of the changes were made in conformance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to ensure sign colors, sizes and placement conformed to approved standards.
Lowery praised the California endeavor for its use of “solid traffic engineering on a systematic basis.” Another strength of the effort, he said, was the documentation – pulling measured results together in a way that clearly reported their success.
Mendocino County’s work was partially funded with a grant from the California Department of Transportation. Over the course of six years, the county spent $79,000 for the engineering study and the implementation. In the end, 42 percent of crashes on the roadways studied were reduced.
“The results were fantastic for the amount of money spent,” Lowery said.
Putting the Program to Work in Texas
Bee County Road Administrator Frank Montez, who also attended the seminar, already is at work in his county applying some of the lessons taken from the California seminar.
The county, Montez said, has advance-warning signs for potential hazards, such as curves, but has not used speed advisory signs. He has acquired a ball bank indicator to help the county determine appropriate speeds for hazardous areas. Once those are determined, the county will begin marking recommended speeds.
Montez said he also is looking into getting routine traffic crash reports from the Texas Department of Public Safety to review problem traffic crash areas.