Identifying and Solving Problems

Because of limited resources, we need to apply the right solution to the right problem on the right
road at the right time. This is where problem solving and planning come in.
When improving road safety, the first goal is to stop crashes from happening. That is why the
emphasis for roadside improvements is on removing hazards rather than installing guiderail. The
second goal is reducing the severity of accidents that do happen. When a roadside hazard cannot
be removed or made safer, then guiderail is used to reduce crash severity.

Identifying and Solving Problems
A basic method for solving safety problems is:

  1. Identify the type of problem and determine contributing factors.
  2. Select a countermeasure: a. Which improvement offers the best results for the least cost?
    b. Will a possible improvement solve the problem, or just move it down the road?
    c. Will a possible improvement cause problems of its own? If so, are they worse         
    than the problem you are trying to solve?
  3. Install the countermeasure
  4. Evaluate success
  5. Return to Step 2 if necessary

You can learn of problems in several ways. Many times, it is a complaint from a citizen. If the
complaint comes from a police officer, or it is in writing, you need to do something about it.
In legal terminology, you have been given actual notice of a potential defect. Investigate the
problem and document your decision even if you decide nothing can be or needs to be done.

The complaint may come in the form of a suggested solution, such as a traffic signal request.
It is easy to ignore the complaint and deny the request because the person is not a traffic safety
expert. Just because a bad solution is offered does not mean there is not a problem. Perhaps
the person wants the signal to fix a sight distance problem, and all that is needed is some brush
removal. You will not know unless you look. Be sure to document your action.

The best way to avoid constructive notice lawsuits is to find problems before someone else does.
As discussed in the liability section, constructive notice means that there was a safety defect
in the road that was obvious enough that the highway department should have known about it,
but did not. Inspect your roads on a regular basis and after significant events like storms. Also,
encourage your employees to report any potential problems they see. More information on road
inspections can be found in the CLRP manual Reducing Liability for Local Highway Officials.

Emergency service personnel are a good source of information. Police and emergency medical
technicians are often called to accident scenes. They may notice accidents tend to happen at
certain locations. Remember that a report of a highway defect by a police officer is considered
actual notice, even if it is not in writing.

The last way to find problem areas is through a highway safety investigation. These involve
conducting a road condition survey and either an accident analysis, a road safety audit, or both.


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