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42 Utility Pole Collisions C. Paul Scott and Don L. Ivey The cover of Trafï¬c Safety Facts 1999 (1) shows what is left of a red automobile aftera collision with a utility pole as emergency medical technicians and ï¬remen strug-gle to remove the driver. According to NHTSAâs Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), there were 1,103 recorded fatalities in 2000, the latest year for which data are available, and an estimated 60,000 injuries related to utility pole crashes. Utility pole fatalities (Figure 1) have declined from more than 1,900 in 1980 to about 1,1001 in 2000. This is good news, but much more needs to be done. Despite the fact that more than 1,000 motorists are killed and about 60,000 are injured each year, state departments of transportation, local highway agencies, and utility com- panies appear to have given the problem a low priority. This may be because 1,000 is only about 2.6% of all highway fatalities. Possibly it is because utility poles rank only fourth on lists of ï¬xed object fatalities, as indicated in Table 1. Even so, it is important to keep in mind that no matter what the statistics show, far too many people, not numbers, are being killed and injured each year in collisions with utility poles. The tragic part is that many of these deaths and injuries could be avoided. The preceding statistics were obtained from FARS on October 30, 2001. What is known about utility pole crashes and roadway factors associated with high crash risk? Numerous studies have been conducted in the past two decades to better understand the factors contributing to utility pole crashes. For example, a 1980 study by Mak and Mason for FHWA (2) included 9,583 utility pole crashes on 2,500 miles of road- way in four states. Utility pole crashes ranged from 0 to 6.4 per mile per year on the study sections, averaging 0.57 utility pole crash per mile per year (and 16.6 utility pole crashes per 100 million vehicle-miles). Mak and Masonâs work must be considered a landmark study in terms of deï¬ning the extent of hazards imposed by poles. Pertinent objectives were â(1) identify the extent of the pole accident problem; (2) determine accident and injury severity rates associated with pole accidents; and (3) assess vehicle crashworthiness and highway design and operational characteristics for pole accidents.â 1Because only the ï¬rst recorded event is listed by FARS, the actual toll may be signiï¬cantly larger. C. Paul Scott, Federal Highway Administration, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590. Current afï¬liation: TBE Group, Inc., 16216 Edgewood Drive, Dumfries, VA 22026. Don L. Ivey, Texas Transportation Institute, College Station, TX 77843.
Over a 4-year period, data were obtained from study sites in San Francisco, Los Ange- les, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Dallas, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C. These data included a probabilistically selected sample of 1,014 pole accidents, events (investigated in depth), and a sample inventory of poles. These data provided the base for extensive statistical analyses addressing the study objectives. Although poles in general, including signposts and luminaire supports along with timber utility poles, were studied, speciï¬c attention was given to the latter. Primary ï¬ndings by Mak and Mason (2) are as follows: â¢ âUtility poles were the most frequently struck pole type accounting for 76.1 percent of all pole accidents.â â¢ âPole accidents are primarily an urban problem with 36.9 pole accidents per 100 miles of highway as compared to only 5.2 for rural areas.â â¢ Mak and Mason point out, however, that âboth urban and rural areas have nearly iden- tical rates of 3.4 pole accidents per billion vehicle pole interactions.â In this case, they mean by interaction simply an opportunity to strike a pole due to a vehicle passage. â¢ âPole accidents in rural areas have higher impact severity than urban pole accidents as a result of higher impact speeds. A total of 10.7 percent of rural pole accidents resulted in severe to fatal injuries versus only 5.4 percent for urban pole accidents.â â¢ âDrivers involved in pole accidents are mostly male (76.9 percent) and 25 years old or younger (55 percent) indicating the over-involvement of younger male drivers in pole accidents.â â¢ âCollisions with timber utility poles have the highest frequency of severe to fatal injuries (7.4 percent).â â¢ âThe incorporation of a breakaway design into luminaire and large sign supports is effective in reducing the resultant injury severity.â (The authors would add the use of crash cushions and guardrails is also of proven effectiveness.) Utility Pole Collisions 5 0 200 400 600 800 1,000 1,200 1,400 1,600 1,800 2,000 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 Fa ta lit ie s Year FIGURE 1 National utility pole fatalities. Fixed Object (F.O.) Fatalities % Total (41,821) % F. O. (12,175) Tree/Shrubbery 3,379 8.1 27.8 Embankment 1,283 3.1 10.5 Guardrail 1,171 2.8 9.6 Utility Pole 1,103 2.6 9.1 Ditch 944 2.3 7.8 Other F. O. 4,295 10.2 35.2 TOTAL 12,175 29.1 100.0 TABLE 1 Fixed Object Fatalities (2000)
With those tragic facts in mind the question is whether a practical solution can be found. Clearly it cannot be recommended that 88,000,000 poles (3) on highway roadsides be removed. No one has ever recommended that type of overreaction. When it is considered, however, that the projected societal cost of these accidents over the next 5 years is $28 bil- lion, it appears that something should be done. There are a number of cost-effective steps that can be taken. In the chapters on solutions (Chapter 3) and strategies (Chapter 4), those steps are deï¬ned. REFERENCES 1. Trafï¬c Safety Facts 1999: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Report- ing System and the General Estimates System. National Highway Trafï¬c Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C., Dec. 2000. 2. Mak, K. K., and R. L. Mason. Accident AnalysisâBreakaway and Non-Breakaway Poles Including Sign and Light Standards Along Highways. DOT-HS-805-605. FHWA, Aug. 1980. 3. Wentworth, J. A. Motor Vehicle Accidents Involving Utility PolesâSummary of Data Availability. Ofï¬ces of R&D, FHWA, 1973. 6 Utilities and Roadside Safety