Today, all around the world it is well known that road crashes are a big social and economic problem. Different measures and programs have been developed to reduce the number of casualties on roads. On an international level, the United Nations, World Health Organization, International financial institutions (especially IBRD or ADB, EBRD, EIB, etc.) and some specialized NGOs (PIARC, ETSC, PRI, SEETO, etc.) represent high quality stakeholders of global road safety improvements. In the autumn of 2009, ministers and stakeholders from all over the world approved the Moscow Declaration on Road Safety (First Global UN Ministerial Conference on Road Safety). Within 2 years this matter was discussed at the UN and a Decade for Action on Road Safety was announced for the period 2011-2020 with a target to reduce the worldwide total of deaths by 50% by 2020.
In most countries, road design guidelines are applied which, in most cases include implementation of road safety issues. Despite this, crashes still occur on new and rehabilitated roads. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, design standards often contain minimum requirements regarding road safety and a combination of these elements can sometimes lead to dangerous situations. Furthermore, it is not always possible to comply with the standards. Sometimes, especially in built-up-areas or in difficult terrain, there are reasons which make the application of the standards impossible. Where roads are rehabilitated often only the running surface is improved but horizontal and vertical curvature is left unchanged. The higher speeds now possible on such roads can lead to increased accidents
One common misunderstanding is that driver's fault or bad behaviour is the single and only cause of road traffic crashes. As a result of international understanding from various research studies it is clear that the whole system (driver, road with its environment and the vehicles) is strongly connected and usually at least two of these contributory factors are involved.
This is why “The Safe System Approach” is not focusing anymore on single elements of the
transport system but on their interfaces, especially on the Human Factors and the interface between road users and the road which has to be adapted to road users abilities and limitations. A number of techniques and processes have been developed in last two decades. One of them is Road Safety Audit (RSA) which is now recognized as one of the most efficient engineering tools. RSA is a term used internationally to describe an independent review of a road project to identify road or traffic safety concerns. It can be regarded as part of a comprehensive quality management system. It is a formal examination of a road or a traffic project.
With the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council no. 2008/96 on road infrastructure safety management, published in October 2008, the European Union made a clear decision and direction that road safety is important. It is clear that RSA will be mandatory for the trans-European Road Network in the forthcoming years and European Investment Bank is already extending application of the Directive via its lessons to the neighborhood countries.
In Directive 2008/96 , RSA is part of a package of road safety measures, including:
- Road safety impact assessment (RIA),
- Road safety audit for the design stages of roads (RSA)
- Safety ranking and management of the road network in operation, including management of high risk road sections, often called «Black Spot» Management (BSM)
- Road safety inspections of existing roads (RSI) and
- In-depth crash analysis (IDS).
RSA represents a pro-active (preventive) element that should be included in the road design process. Furthermore, the RSA procedure is:
- A formal process,
- An independent process,
- Carried out by someone with appropriate safety experience and training,
- Restricted to road safety issues of the road and making it safer for all road users.
The outcome of a RSA is a formal report, which identifies existing and potential road safety deficiencies and, if appropriate, makes recommendations aimed at removing or reducing these deficiencies. With the audit process, it is possible to reduce the number and severity of traffic crashes by improving the road safety performances.
According to the best practice, as well as the previously mentioned EU directive, there are four different stages during which Road Safety Audits are most commonly conducted:
Stage 1: draft design,
Stage 2: detailed design,
Stage 3: pre-opening of the road and
Stage 4: early operation, when the road is in use.
The RSA has a lot of similarity with another road safety management procedure and that is the Road Safety Inspection (RSI). The output of RSI is also a formal report, and the form is
slightly different from RSA report.