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8Summary Don L. Ivey and C. Paul Scott The Utility Safety Task Group has reviewed and reestablished the magnitude of theutility pole safety problem. Solutions, strategies, and initiatives are presented.Related legal issues are described. Professionalism is treated in the context of the societal tragedy represented. In 2000, the latest year for which data are available, there were 1,1031 fatalities and more than 60,000 injuries related to motor vehicles leaving the roadway and crashing into utility poles. Many of the injuries were serious. These numbers were lower than in any previous year but remain far too high. Utility companies (utilities) own the poles involved in these crashes, but most of these poles are located on public road or street rights-of-way. It thus becomes a joint utility, state department of transportation (DOT), and local highway agency (HA) responsibility to take appropriate measures to reduce the hazard of these ï¬xed obstacles. There are a number of possible solutions to utility pole hazards. These solutions include countermeasures for the following: â¢ Keeping vehicles on the roadway, â¢ Removing poles or changing their position, â¢ Installing safety devices, and â¢ Warning motorists about obstacles. Utility, state DOT, and local HA representatives can work together to determine which solution is most appropriate for each problem area or site. The ï¬rst objective is to increase the probability of keeping vehicles on the roadway. On certain sites this may be attempted through the use of positive guidance (e.g., pavement markings, roadside delineators, advance warning signs, and other visual cues) and phys- ical roadway enhancements (e.g., skid-resistant pavement, lane widening, shoulder paving, increasing superelevation, straightening sharp curves, decreasing vehicle speeds, lighting, and trafï¬c calming). If the nature of the site, including a modest or nonexistent clear zone, does not lend itself to conï¬dence in those changes, more direct steps will be necessary. These may 40 1Based on a Texas assessment of recorded utility pole accidents compared with the âï¬rst recorded eventâ cri- teria of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the actual toll may be considerably higher. Don L. Ivey, Texas Transportation Institute, College Station, TX 77843. C. Paul Scott, Federal Highway Administra- tion, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590. Current afï¬liation: TBE Group, Inc., 16216 Edgewood Drive, Dumfries, VA 22026.
include removing or relocating poles (moving them away from the roadway into in- accessible locations, joint use, increased spacing) or installing safety devices (crash cush- ions, guardrail, concrete barriers, or steel-reinforced safety poles). In addition to those well-known treatments, several new countermeasures have been developed that have the potential to reduce utility pole crash severity. They include an energy-absorbing ï¬berglass utility pole and breakaway guy wires. All safety devices do not ï¬t every location. Often only one is applicable to a particu- lar site and sometimes delineation is the only practical option. An on-site inspection, attended by both DOT and utility personnel, is usually required to ensure an appropri- ate choice. Appendices A and B provide examples of practical guidelines for making systematic choices. A primary objective of state DOTs, local HAs, and utilities that have collision reduc- tion programs in place is to develop a strategy for minimizing utility pole crashes that maximizes the beneï¬t to society for every action and expenditure. A secondary, but nonetheless important, objective is to provide a good defensive position relative to liti- gation. Strategies and analytical methods to maximize beneï¬ts have been developed and used by a few state DOTs, local HAs, and utilities with good results. The following three- path approach (best offense, best bet, and best defense) summarizes the components of a comprehensive collision reduction program: â¢ Best offense: This approach involves identifying where an atypical number of colli- sions are occurring, considering available countermeasures, prioritizing for treatment, and implementing the improvements. â¢ Best bet: This approach involves prioritizing potentially hazardous poles and roadway sections before an accident history develops and implementing appropriate improve- ments. This may be done with statistical prediction algorithms. â¢ Best defense: This approach complements the ï¬rst two strategies. It involves striving to meet the recommendations of the Roadside Design Guide (1) by a prioritized effort. In the courthouse, a second legally damaging condition, right behind a signiï¬cant crash history, is failure to meet the recommendations of the Roadside Design Guide (1). This is true for DOTs and is quite likely to become true in the very near future for utilities. The following state DOTs and utilities have developed and implemented utility pole collision reduction programs: â¢ New York, â¢ Pennsylvania, â¢ Jacksonville Electric Authority (Florida), â¢ Washington State, â¢ Georgia, â¢ Georgia Power Company, â¢ Florida, and â¢ Lafayette Utilities System (Louisiana). In addition, steel-reinforced safety poles have been successfully used in Kentucky, Mass- achusetts, Texas, and Virginia. As a result of successful ï¬eld experience, several designs have been approved by FHWA for use on federal-aid highway projects. State DOTs, local HAs, and utilities have two major reasons to be concerned about util- ity pole collisions: (a) improved safety for motorists and (b) threat of litigation. The threat of litigation is signiï¬cant and is increasing. Negligence is the leading basis for suits in highway liability cases. The plaintiff usually alleges the state DOT, local HA, and/or util- ity failed to act in a reasonable manner and thus caused or contributed to a trafï¬c acci- dent. In a typical case, the state DOT, local HA, and utility have a duty to provide a reasonably safe roadside. Breach of this duty could be installing or allowing a pole to be installed too close to the roadway. The courts have struggled for years to determine whether parties to the placement of a utility pole are indeed liable. Decisions rendered Summary 41
have not been consistent. Generally, however, and more frequently in recent years, the courts have ruled that a utility (and sometimes a state DOT or local HA) is liable to a motorist injured when his or her vehicle strikes a utility pole located too close to the road- way or in some other potentially hazardous location. However, recognizing it is not pos- sible to expeditiously alleviate every such hazard, the courts traditionally have looked kindly on state DOTs, local HAs, and utilities that demonstrate they are concerned about the problem of utility pole crashes and are addressing them in a positive manner by development and implementation of a utility pole crash reduction program with docu- mented results. Even though roadside safety programs and technologies are available to reduce util- ity pole crashes and the severity of such crashes, they have not been applied more sys- tematically for various reasons. A mandate for change is needed. Professional engineers from federal, state, municipal, and particularly from utility organizations, working together, can be the principal driving force behind an effort to encourage all highway and utility organizations to develop and implement utility pole crash reduction pro- grams by using appropriate technologies. In summary, the following points can be made: â¢ Programs and technologies exist to reduce utility pole crashes and the severity of util- ity pole crashes, and a more systematic approach to their use can have positive impacts. â¢ Engineers in both transportation and utility organizations can take the lead in pro- moting utility pole safety through the use of existing programs and technologies. Implementation of the programs and technology illustrated here can have the follow- ing results: â¢ Utilities âAn in-house roadside safety program can save customers money. âAn in-house roadside safety program can save the company money. âAn in-house roadside safety program can improve public safety and the safety of the people in the maintenance department. âAn in-house roadside safety program can reduce downtime experienced when poles and conductors are damaged by collisions. âAn in-house roadside safety program can enhance the companyâs position with respect to litigation. â¢ State DOTs and local HAs âAn agency roadside safety program in cooperation with utilities can improve public safety. âAn agency roadside safety program in cooperation with utilities can enhance the organizationâs position with respect to litigation. In closing, the implementation of utilities-related roadside safety programs has only positive results for organizations that take the initiative. REFERENCE 1. Roadside Design Guide. AASHTO, Washington, D.C., Jan. 1996. 42 Utilities and Roadside Safety