Fatal and serious injuries resulting from vehicle collisions with fixed roadside hazards make up, arguably, the single largest component of all road trauma in Victoria. Some three to four of every ten deaths and serious injuries on Victorian roads, and up to five out of every ten deaths and serious injuries in rural areas, are the result of collisions with roadside hazards. This paper outlines a study that examined the nature and extent of the crash problem and the need for a new approach to roadside safety.
Analysis of Victorian crash data from 1996 to 2000 is used to define the nature and extent of the problem of fixed-object crashes. Crash frequency and severity, and road user and environmental factors that are over-represented in them are identified. Having regard to these crash characteristics, liability and accountability issues are examined. In particular, the recent elimination of the nonfeasance defence is discussed in the context of increasing the incentive for responsible authorities to improve roadside safety.
Finally, world?s best practice in roadside safety is examined and the effectiveness of the current design guidelines is questioned. It appears the current design guidelines have failed in substantially reducing the frequency or severity of collisions with fixed roadside objects. The clear zone concept is questioned as an effective means of preventing serious injuries in run-off-the-road crashes, especially along high-speed, high-volume routes. The existing guidelines of 15m median width and 9m far boundary clear zone appear insufficient to reduce impact speeds enough to improve crash and injury outcomes. It is argued that a fundamental review of the road design and system operation standards that determine the inherent level of safety of roadsides is required, followed by the development of new, safer standards.