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7Professionalism Jarvis Michie Collectively, vehicleâpole collisions represent an annual cost to society of $5 billion.Individually, these tragedies seldom make the headlines, but nationwide they farexceed the annual 285 commercial airline crash fatalities and media-documented events such as the TWA Flight 800 crash. It has recently been estimated that the societal loss due to collisions with utility poles each month is greater than the 5-year societal loss due to the Bridgestone/Ford alleged problem (1). The roadside utility pole hazard prob- lem is not new. It was identiï¬ed by AASHTO in the mid-1960s, more than 30 years ago. Technology to alleviate the hazard has also been available for more than 25 years, although the array of remedial treatments has recently been increased (2). An extreme example of effectiveness of the technology is the lack of utility pole collisions on the Inter- state, where pole placements are not permitted (3). Also, as discussed in Chapter 4, tech- nology to address the utility pole problem can be affordable and cost beneï¬cial. One must question why we have not been able to make even more progress than we have to date. HISTORY Before examining the question, it is appropriate to brieï¬y review the history of roadside safety. The watershed event occurred in 1966 when Congress passed the Highway Safety Act. The essence of the act required that (a) automobiles be designed to be more crashworthy and to provide protection to occupants involved in collisions, and (b) roadsides be designed that are more âforgivingâ of motoristsâ mistakes. Thus, for the ï¬rst time, the national standard of care became that protection was required for the motoring public within practical limits regardless of circumstances causing the event. Thereafter, high- way engineers used industrial safety principles designed for drivers who were subject to occasional human error. Before 1966, highway agencies designed and maintained roads only for drivers who remained on the roadway. It should not be surprising that typical pre-1966 roads had roadsides cluttered with massive ï¬xed objects, including utility poles and nontravers- able embankments. It also should not be surprising that most utility accommodation policies of that era were extremely ï¬exible with regard to locating utility poles within the 37 Jarvis Michie, JDM Consulting Engineering, 7734 Windmill Hill, San Antonio, TX 78229.
38 Utilities and Roadside Safety road right-of-way, which resulted in many poles being located within a few feet of the traveled way and many roads being located within a few feet of existing utility poles. After 1966, highway agencies began incorporating the âforgiving roadsideâ concept into new and existing highways by removing or converting ï¬xed objects to safer designs and making the roadside more traversable for errant vehicles. For high-speed highways, it was determined by pioneering engineers such as John Hutchinson and Ken Stonex that 80% of roadside injuries and fatalities would be averted by providing a 30-ft-wide tra- versable roadside that was clear of all ï¬xed objects such as trees, ditches, embankments, sign supports, utility poles, and so forth. Since then, highway agencies have done a rea- sonably good job of treating roadside hazards that are owned or designed by the high- way agencies. Unfortunately, most utility poles located near highways are owned by utility compa- nies and were placed or allowed to remain under guidelines developed in the pre-1966 era. Within the provisions of pre-1966 utility accommodation policies, highway agencies may have lacked the political muscle to treat, move, or require the utility pole owner to safely treat or move the hazard. Many times utility companies have taken the position that highway safety is the responsibility of the highway agency. âIt is only through coop- eration between highway engineers and utility companies that realistic solutions to car/ pole accidents can be establishedâ (4). This historical overview is of course a simpliï¬cation of a complex problem involving two institutionsâhighway agencies and utility companiesâeach with different goals and purposes. TIME FOR CHANGE A review of historical vehicleâpole collisions reveals a gradual downward trend in util- ity pole collisions. This reduction is attributable to the efforts of federal, state, and local agencies that establish clear zones and stricter pole placement policies and the utilities that comply. Nevertheless, the more than 1,100 utility pole fatalities yearly are a national tragedy that calls for further improvement. Engineers from state departments of transportation, local highway agencies, and utility companies, working cooperatively, can overcome the obstacles and achieve an effective solution. This is because registered professional engineers, regardless of their discipline or employment, are bound to a common code of ethics that transcends the boundary of the utility pole problem. The ï¬rst fundamental canon of the National Society of Professional Engineers is âEngineers, in fulï¬llment of their professional duties, shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.â It is noted that the canon refers to the public without qualifying restrictions. Accord- ingly, the public would certainly include the 1,100 fatalities and 60,000 injuries sustained in 2000 in utility pole collisions. It would also include the projected 5,500 fatalities and 300,000 injuries projected during the 5-year period (2002â2006). WORKING TOGETHER There are three items that professional engineers from both transportation and utility organizations can accomplish by working together: 1. Technical information presented in guidelines, policies, and standards can be made consistent and complementary. It may be appropriate to have all the documents refer to a single source such as the AASHTO Roadside Design Guide (5). For example, curbs have been found to be ineffective as redirectional devices (6). 2. Permit and easement models can be updated. A licensed professional engineerâs approval is usually required for speciï¬c pole location sites in accord with the forgiving
roadside concept. Additional funding mechanisms can be established to relocate and shield utility poles that become hazardous because of changing trafï¬c patterns or road- way geometrics. 3. Plans of action can be developed for treating existing utility poles in hazardous loca- tions. As a ï¬rst step, teams composed of both highway and utility company staff can conduct surveys and identify problem poles. The identiï¬cation should be based on both prior collision data and nonconformance to Roadside Design Guide criteria. A sec- ond step can be to prioritize the identiï¬ed poles according to degree of hazard to the public. The third step is to establish both short-term and long-term programs to treat the problem poles. SUMMARY State and local highway agencies and pole-owning utility companies can work together to approach safety issues with an attitude that strives to obtain the maximum safety ben- eï¬t that can practically be obtained in the absence of unlimited resources. Run-off-the- road crashes are generally both random and unpredictable, and poles located within the rights-of-way are by nature potential obstacles to errant vehicles that leave the driving surface. Engineers should seek to achieve as much clear area as practical when locating or relo- cating utility poles, to allow errant vehicles more room to recover with less chance of col- lision. For existing poles, optimal safety beneï¬ts with limited resources are best achieved through mutual cooperation of state and local highway agencies and utilities targeting areas where most crashes occur, including an analysis of why the vehicles are leaving the roadway. It is time for change (7). To lead this mandate professional engineers from both high- way and utility organizations can be the principal driving force because of their common ethical and moral responsibility of holding paramount the health, safety, and welfare of the public. REFERENCES 1. Scott, C. P., and D. L. Ivey. Utility Poles and Roadside Safety, The Road to Responsibility. Pre- sented at 80th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C., 2001. 2. Transportation Research Circular E-C030: Utility Safety: Mobilized for Action and State, City, and Util- ity Initiatives in Roadside Safety. Presentations from TRB Committee on Utilities (A2A07) from the 79th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C., April 2001. gulliver.trb.org/publications/circulars/ec030/ec030.pdf. 3. Michie, J. D., M. E. Bronstad, and J. W. Strybos. Overlooked Urban Nonfreeway Roadside Safety Problems. Presented at 74th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washing- ton, D.C., 1995. 4. Legato, R. Roadside Safety: A Moral Obligation. Right of Way Magazine, July/Aug. 1998. 5. Roadside Design Guide. AASHTO, Washington, D.C., Jan. 1996. 6. Utilities and Clear Zones, Analyses, Observations and Misconceptions. Presented to the Com- mittee on Utilities (A2A07), TRB, Washington, D.C., Jan. 1998. 7. Ivey, D. L. The Time Has Come for Utility Safety Programs. Presented at the National Highway Utility Conference, Denver, Colo., Feb. 1991. Professionalism 39