National Academies Press: OpenBook

Utilities and Roadside Safety (2004)

Chapter: Chapter 1 Introduction

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Page 11
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Utilities and Roadside Safety. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23378.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Utilities and Roadside Safety. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23378.
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Page 12
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 1 Introduction." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Utilities and Roadside Safety. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23378.
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Page 13

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1Introduction Don L. Ivey and C. Paul Scott Formidable structures of steel, concrete, and wood located in critical positions are notconsistent with a forgiving roadside. Many of these structures are utility poles. Thisreport describes the tools and methods available to state departments of trans- portation (DOTs), local highway agencies (HAs), and utility companies (utilities) to make the roadside more forgiving. The unforgiving nature of utility poles has been recognized since the 1960s. It is as old as the highway engineers’ recognition of the need for forgiving roadsides, a concept that found wide understanding and acceptance some time before AASHO published its rev- olutionary 1967 Yellow Book, Design and Operational Practices Related to Highway Safety (1). Through the intervening years, the roadsides have changed dramatically. Breakaway ground-mounted sign and luminaire supports, crash cushions, traversable clear zones, collision-worthy guardrails and bridge rails, and safer drainage structures are some of the changes that have saved tens of thousands of lives in the intervening decades. Util- ity pole improvements have also been made. New utility poles are placed as close to the edge of the right-of-way as possible. Many utility poles that existed before 1967 have been removed, moved to safer locations, or made safer in some other manner. Many more, however, remain in place and continue to present a significant roadside hazard. In 2000, the latest year for which data are available, there were 1,103 fatalities and about 60,000 injuries related to utility pole crashes. The fact that 1,103 fatalities are only 2.6% of all highway fatalities may be one of the reasons why state DOTs, local HAs, and utilities appear to place a low priority on the utility pole safety problem. However, col- lisions with utility poles are a significant part of the overall roadway safety problem, resulting in more than 9% of all “fixed object” fatalities. Utility poles are one obstruction that can be addressed in an overall effort to reduce highway fatalities and injuries. Utility poles used to rank second on lists of fixed object fatalities. Now they are down to fourth. This appears to imply that things are getting better and may be another reason for the apparently low priority. Things are getting better, but much work remains to be done before collision-exposed poles have been eliminated. Collisions with utility poles may appear to be a problem affecting only owners of the poles, but that is not the case. Some poles became more exposed due to highway changes. In certain cases poles were located far from the edge of pavement before the roads and 1 Don L. Ivey, Texas Transportation Institute, College Station, TX 77843. C. Paul Scott, Federal Highway Administration, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590. Current affiliation: TBE Group, Inc., 16216 Edgewood Drive, Dumfries, VA 22026.

streets were widened. Some poles existed at their present locations before roads and streets were built. Thus, the utility pole problem is a joint problem involving many stakeholders. State DOTs and local HAs are stakeholders. In cooperation with affected utilities, they often take the lead in developing safety programs designed to identify hazardously located utility poles, prioritize them, and systematically remove, relocate, or modify them. In some cases, state DOTs also take the lead in looking for ways to fund needed improvements. Unfortunately, few state DOTs and local HAs have taken these basic steps. Utilities are another stakeholder and may also take the lead in roadside safety pro- grams. Today they are in a unique position to make progressive decisions that will pos- itively influence the management, employees, stockholders, and the public for many years to come. Coming through the longest period of economic expansion in recent his- tory, prepared to make the most of government deregulation, and presented with the opportunity to take advantage of a highly visible public relations windfall, it is hard to imagine a better environment for the utility industry to contribute to roadside safety. Even though a few utilities have taken steps toward resolving roadside safety issues, most have not. FHWA is also a stakeholder. Federal regulations contained in 23 CFR 645.209(k) indi- cate that when a state DOT or local HA determines that existing utility facilities are likely to be associated with injury or accident to the highway user, as indicated by accident his- tory or safety studies, the state DOT or local HA shall initiate or cause to be initiated, in consultation with the affected utilities, corrective measures to provide for a safer traffic environment. The regulations go on to say that the corrective measures may include changes to utility or highway facilities and should be prioritized to maximize safety ben- efits in the most cost-effective manner. FHWA has not enforced this regulation but has worked in recent years to encourage roadside safety programs that include movement of poles and implementation of safety structures. This report contains tools a utility, state DOT, or local HA will find useful. These subjects include the following: • Precedents –AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan (potential for saving 6,000 lives per year) –Utility Safety Task Group of Committee A2A07, Transportation Research Board –FHWA supporting research and developing status reports on every state –State, city, and utility programs to reduce exposure to roadside poles • Strategies –Determination of where pole collisions occur by using accident and maintenance records –Prioritization of safety improvements by accident experience, probability of collisions, and degree of compliance with clear zone recommendations –Demonstration of the cost-effectiveness and indeed the cost savings to utility com- panies implementing roadside safety programs • Engineering –Illustration of the applicability of current roadside safety structures to utility sites on the roadside (includes crash cushions, steel-reinforced safety poles, guardrails, and concrete barriers) –Demonstrations of performance of roadside safety structures in collisions –Description of opportunities presented to utility industry for cost savings, improve- ment of system reliability, and improvement of public safety • State and utility programs –New York –Pennsylvania –Washington State –Florida –Georgia 2 Utilities and Roadside Safety

–Jacksonville Electric Authority (Florida) –Georgia Power Company –Lafayette Utilities System (Louisiana) • Professionalism –History of roadside safety related to professionalism –Conclusion: In keeping with tenets of engineering societies, the mandates of state law, and professional engineering ethics, a licensed professional engineer’s approval should be required for specific pole locations in accordance with the principle of the forgiving roadside and in accordance with the responsibility of “holding paramount the health, safety and welfare of the public” • Legal aspects –Negligence as the basis for tort liability –Judgments and settlements –Lawsuits –Ways of successfully defending lawsuits Also included is the experience of four utilities and eight states in implementing these life-saving and cost-saving strategies and technologies. This document will help utilities answer the following key questions: • Will a roadside safety program save my customers money? • Will a roadside safety program save my company money? • Will a roadside safety program promote public safety and the safety of the people in my maintenance department? • Will a roadside safety program enhance the position of my company with respect to litigation? • How can an effective roadside safety program be implemented? This document will help state DOTs and local HAs answer the following key questions: • How will a roadside safety program enhance the safety of motorists? • Will a roadside safety program enhance the position of my organization with respect to litigation? • How can an effective roadside safety program be implemented? REFERENCE 1. Design and Operational Practices Related to Highway Safety. AASHO, Washington, D.C., 1967. Introduction 3

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TRB State of the Art Report 9: Utilities and Roadside Safety includes the latest information on utility company, state department of transportation (DOT), and local highway agency roadside safety programs; describes the current status of a combined federal and industry effort to implement roadside safety, including yielding poles; and documents recent developments in guardrail, concrete barrier, and crash cushion design to reduce utility maintenance costs, potential liability, and public health costs.

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