Automobile accidents cause unwanted consequences that could lead to permanent injury, loss of earnings, a disruption in daily living or a loss of life. Information released in 2009 by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that nearly eleven million automobile crashes occurred that year in America. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the state of Illinois have placed a much greater emphasis on roadway safety focusing on technology and statistics to minimize the number of accidents.
Automobile crashes and collisions are often the result of a range of factors including the driver’s abilities and decisions, the vehicle, and the conditions of the road. Highway and roadway planners consider these factors when developing new roadways and improving existing streets to enhance the motoring public’s safety. Their efforts usually involve engineering, traffic law enforcement, emergency medical services, and educating the public.
Engineers in charge of developing new roadway plan focus on the expectation of the driver, their behavior on roadway conditions and how the streets perform during specific traffic patterns and weather conditions. The Illinois Department of Transportation (DOT) incorporates safety features when managing traffic using their Safer Roads Index rating and Safety Tiers while maintaining state routes. This rating system is a part of the planning and programming development process used to improve existing roadways and bridges infrastructure and engineer new highways.
Improving Roadway Infrastructure
Engineers can make improvements to roadway infrastructure to enhance the safety in areas that pose a potentially heightened risk of automobile crashes. Implementing safety features can be accomplished by making basic improvements that better controls traffic or broader projects that might involve resurfacing the pavement, lowering the speed limit, adding lanes or redesigning certain portions of the roadway to improve traffic flow.
Roadway Safety Assessments
The Illinois DOT performs roadway safety assessments that evaluate roadway performance. Their assessment usually presents the results to an independent multi discipline team of safety strategists that make improvements suggestions on how to target the efforts of law enforcement to increase the safety of the roadway.
Adding Features to Enhance Safety
Many of the intersections and roadways throughout Illinois lack certain safety features that could involve traffic lanes, roadway shoulders, enhanced turning lanes, better traffic controls, the width of the median, and signage. Some of the implement development recommendations and strategies initiated by the Department of Transportation have included:
- Installing a Median Cable Rail – Many accidents on split roadways are the result of a driver crossing over the median and entering the lane of traffic moving in the opposite direction. These accidents usually result in a head on collision. By installing a cable rail down the center or on either side of the roadway traffic can be better controlled and the risk of a median crossover accident is greatly reduced.
- Installing Rumble Stripes and Rumble Strips – Many crashes occurring on Illinois state routes and roadways are the result of a departure from the road surface caused by distraction, fatigue, or driver impairment. The DOT has recommended the installation of rumble strips/stripes. This involves milling a depression in the asphalt pavement along the shoulder or down the center line of the road. When a tire moves across the depressions on the road, the noise alerts the driver who might be moving out of the lane. Rumble strips have been proven to save lives by preventing accidents.
- Installing Advanced Warning Signs – Approximately ten percent of all accidents in Illinois involving fatalities and severe injuries occur where the roadway curves. In response to the problem, roadway development engineers design roads with installed advanced warning signs to make the motorist immediately aware that they need to reduce their speed or stay alert when rounding the curve to avoid a rollover or departure from the lane. This could include highly reflective signs and/or blinking lights.
Making Intersection Improvements
Every intersection of the roadway system including country roads, state routes or local streets has the potential of being a dangerous area because of crisscrossing traffic. At these locations moving vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles all cross paths when moving in the same direction or changing routes.
Studies indicate that approximately 25 percent of all accidents involving severe injuries and fatalities every year occur at intersections when a vehicle is turning or stopping. Based on the intersection’s location in a rural or urban setting, roadway development engineers will use different signals to control traffic based on safety strategies that involve signage, control devices, and alternative roadway designs.
- Installing Flashing Yellow Arrows – One of the most common causes of turning crashes involves a failure to yield to oncoming traffic. One way to enhance the safety of the intersection is to modify the traffic signal by adding a flashing yellow arrow to provide the driver guidance when making a turn at the intersection.
- Installing a Roundabout – Many intersection-related accidents can be eliminated through the installation of a roundabout where drivers enter the geometric design at one of multiple points after they yield to moving traffic inside the roundabout. By getting rid of the travel light, the redesign can reduce the potential of a crash and allow cars and trucks to continue moving even when the traffic is heavy.
Maintaining Roadway Work Zones
To ensure individuals using the roadway remain safe, state and local highway agencies have taken steps to improve the roadway system, including new construction and ongoing maintenance. However, this work is performed within dedicated construction zones. To ensure everyone remains safe, the road maintenance agency will use an abundance of traffic controls in the work zone. However, the zones require that the driver remain focused and undistracted while traveling at a slow speed, especially when the construction workers are present on the roadway work site.
To keep everyone safe, Illinois DOT uses law enforcement officers to better control work zones. The presence of police officers can make sure motors drive slowly and safely to avoid serious injuries or fatalities.
Focusing on Every Roadway User’s Safety
Roadways are not just designed to handle moving vehicle traffic. In rural and urban environments, both bicyclists and pedestrians use the road for traveling and crossing. On some roads, the sidewalk and/or shoulder can cause a conflict between motor vehicle operators and bicyclists and pedestrians, who might be highly vulnerable to fast moving traffic, especially if the motorist’s driving distracted or impaired.
Because of that, roadway development engineers Will design infrastructure safety improvements into the construction plan to minimize the potential risks of injury. These improvements can increase the safety of everyone by preventing accidents. This includes the installation of crosswalk countdown signals, bicycle lanes, brighter street lighting, enhanced crosswalk features, and improved intersection traffic signal timing to accommodate slow-moving walkers and cyclists.
In addition, the Illinois DOT uses federal funding to implement the state’s Safe Routes to School Program. This program enables and encourages young pedestrians and bikers to walk to school. The goal of the program is to provide alternative transportation options to minimize the amount of traffic on the roads.
Traffic Law Enforcement
The state uses traffic law enforcement officers to improve the safety of every user on the road by increasing the awareness of traffic-related severe injuries and fatalities. The Illinois DOT offers communities grant money and state funds to enhance law enforcement safety by focusing on critical roadway areas. In the past, the enforcement efforts have focused on ten specific areas that include impaired driving, driver awareness and behaviors, protecting the occupant, and the dangers of large trucks.
- Enforcement Grants – Annually-available highway safety grants provided by the Illinois DOT are used to assist communities, counties and State agencies throughout Illinois. These grant monies are used to initiate safety-related programs that tackle traffic problems and improve roadway safety.
- Mobilization – Illinois DOT uses NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) funding to change the behavior of drivers and passengers to improve roadway safety. These funds are available to law enforcement agencies at the municipal, county and state levels, including the State Police. Their mobilization efforts have helped promote child restraint devices and increased public awareness on avoiding distracted driving and driving under the influence. The DOT-funded Buckle Up Program has been highly successful as a public awareness campaign.
Automated Law Enforcement
Automated law enforcement efforts have been highly successful at improving safety, especially in points of conflict areas on Illinois roads and intersections. Using automation equipment, law enforcement agencies have utilized video cameras to capture images of cars and trucks that are violating state traffic laws. These efforts have involved the Photo Speed Enforcement Program, the Red Light Running Program, and the School Bus Arm Law.
- Photo Speed Enforcement Program – In the last decade, many communities have installed photo speed enforcement cameras to minimize distracted driving at an excessive speed. This problem continues to be the major cause of most accidents with fatalities and injuries on highway work zones. These cameras help reduce the severity and number of automobile accidents that are caused by speeders through road construction zones. Additionally, violation fines are often doubled or tripled for any speed or in a construction zone who violate the law when workers are present.
- Red Light Running Program– Automobile accidents involving turning at intersections tend to produce the most severe catastrophic results when the driver runs a red light. The Red Light Running Program has been implemented in eight counties in Illinois including Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair, and Will. The red light running program captures an image of the driver violating traffic laws while moving through the intersection on a red light.
- School Bus Arm Law – Pedestrians, especially schoolchildren, are the most vulnerable users of the road. Their safety is greatly diminished when in a school zone, crosswalk, or bus stop where the school bus picks them up and drop them off close to their home. Because of that, the Illinois legislature has enacted the School Bus Arm Law (Illinois Vehicle Code 625 ILCS 5/11-1414) that instructs motorists on how to approach, overtake and pass the school buses in urban and rural settings.
Numerous compliance programs have been developed, implemented and enforced by the Illinois DOT involving motor carriers, vehicle inspections, including trailers and school buses, and the transportation of hazardous materials. These programs ensure the safety of the community and roadway users.
- Motor Carriers – The Illinois DOT has developed a motor carrier compliance program that provides guidance on operating commercial vehicles in the state. The program involves compliance, safety audits and vehicle inspections of commercial motor vehicles to ensure the vehicle remains compliant with motor carrier regulations enforced by the state and federal governments.
- Transporting Hazardous Materials – the Illinois DOT has developed a hazardous materials compliance program that encompasses different industries engaged in transporting or shipping hazardous materials in the state.
- Inspecting Commercial Vehicles – The Illinois Department of Transportation operates the Vehicle Inspection Program to ensure that all commercial vehicles are in safe operating condition. More than 400,000 vehicle inspections are conducted statewide by vehicle inspection stations that routinely determine the commercial vehicle operator is in personal compliance with enforced regulations.
- School Bus Inspections – Regulation oversight of scheduled and nonscheduled school bus inspections is the responsibility of the Illinois DOT that performs more than 60,000 inspections every year. These routine inspections are typically performed at more than 250 official testing stations across Illinois. Certified safety testers help ensure the school bus is safe for the driver, occupants, and other sharing the roadway.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
A significant portion of roadway safety involves Emergency Medical Services that generally arrive within minutes after an accident to provide care at the crash site or transfer victims to a hospital or emergency facility. Using emergency medical services at the crash site can significantly improve the accident victim’s chances of survival from a life-threatening injury.
Additionally, traffic incident management teams are used in dense urban environments to clear the accident scene, improve traffic flow and help avoid a secondary crash that might because by distraction, traffic congestion, or traveling at excessive speed.
Emergency medical technicians (EMT) usually have equipment on board that can link them to the hospital data. This allows the EMT to provide a crash report, communicate with the medical team at the emergency facility so the patient can be assured they are receiving the highest level of care in the shortest amount of time once they arrive at the emergency room.
Educating the Public
The Illinois DOT educates the traveling public on certain behaviors to ensure drivers and passengers remain safe on the states routes, highways, side streets, and freeways. These efforts usually involve traffic safety campaigns, community outreach events, traffic incident management, safety reminders, specialized training, awareness, and roadway memorials.
Traffic Safety Campaign
The Illinois DOT has developed and implemented the Buckle Up Illinois Safety Campaign that emphasizes the necessity of wearing a safety belt and a properly installed child safety seat to improve the chances of surviving a severe crash. In addition, the state has developed the Alcohol Awareness Program to bring attention to the dangerous repercussions of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The goal of the impaired driving safety campaign is to reduce the number of impaired driving-related crashes that could cause fewer fatalities and injuries.
The Drop It and Drive Safety Awareness campaign was developed to eliminate distracted driving by motorists who use electronic devices while driving. Additionally, the state legislature has enacted laws that disallow the use of hand-held mobile devices including smartphones, which are known to cause a distraction when making or receiving text messages and phone calls. However, the state does provide an exception for drivers to use hands-free devices including cell phones, smartphones, GPS navigational systems and sound systems as they are mounted to the windshield, dashboard, or permanently installed in the vehicle.
Community Outreach Events
Illinois DOT has developed public safety programs to educate everyone who shares the roadway. The agency promotes transportation-related activities encouraging every citizen to become involved. This program usually involves concerned interest groups, local public officials, and Illinois residents looking for ways to make the roadway safer.
Traffic Incident Management
The Illinois DOT operates the Traffic Incident Management Team that plans and coordinates ways to identify traffic incidents. This team respond to accidents and clears the roadway to restore a safe environment as quickly as possible. When the management team arrives at the scene of the accident, they take steps to reduce the impact of moving traffic while assisting crash victims involved with emergency responders.
The program offers various training sessions made available to law enforcement officers, the Highway Department, emergency medical teams, fire department, recovery operators, vehicle tow operators, and communicators including 9/11 centers, transportation management centers, and traffic operations centers. The goal of these programs is to improve better highway safety by effectively managing the incident/accident scene.
The roadway is not just designed for car and truck traffic, but other modes of transportation including motorcycles and bicycles. Unfortunately, the bicyclist is at the greatest risk of suffering a severe injury or losing their life on Illinois roadways if they are hit by a moving vehicle at any speed.
To minimize the potential dangers of the State’s roadways, the Illinois DOT has initiated a Share the Road Program. This involves the State Motorists Always Respects Trucks (SMART) Program that is designed to reduce accident-related fatalities between passenger vehicles and trucks. A recent study performed by the agency show that the highest accident rate involving crashes between passenger vehicles and trucks tend to occur between 11:00 AM at 5:00 PM, Thursday through Friday, under most weather conditions including dry and clear.
Other factors include driving too fast or improper lane changes. Many fatal accidents involving trucks collisions with cars and other circumstances occur because the driver fell asleep, was drunk driving, or are older, which includes the age of the truck driver (28 years through 43 years) and the passenger vehicle driver (20 years through 30 years old), when they are most at risk of being involved in an accident.
Riding a scooter four motorcycle on Illinois roadways and highways can be extremely dangerous, especially if the individual lacks sufficient training on how to best operate their two-wheel vehicle. The Illinois DOT offers bicyclist and motorcycle riders a Cycle Rider Safety Training course available for everyone at every experience and skill level.
It is the commitment of the Illinois DOT to take prevent all fatalities on the state’s roadways by keeping road construction site workers and motorists safe. The State agency encourages drivers to stay focused traveling through roadway construction zones during normal business hours, off-peak hours, and throughout the night. Part of the commitment includes increasing public awareness of the state’s Embrace the Orange campaign program that encourages drivers to “See the Orange, Slow down, and Save Lives.
The Illinois DOT takes great effort in bringing awareness that every life is precious and safety is crucial in every roadway. To reach that goal, the state has developed and implemented a DUI Sign Memorial Program that memorializes accident victims who lost their lives by others who were driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol or another intoxicating compound.
Other programs include the employee memorials honoring employees of the Illinois DOT who have lost their lives in the line of duty. This memorial serves as an effective reminder that operating any moving vehicle is not a right but a privilege provided by the state to individuals who drive safely in accordance with traffic laws. Finally, the state generates a daily fatalities number to bring awareness to all the lives that have been lost in accidents occurring on Illinois roadways.
Every automobile accident is an unfortunate incident that occurs all too common in America. While most victims of car, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian and truck accidents suffer minor injuries, thousands lose their lives each year to horrific crashes.
Illinois lawmakers understand the importance of driving safely and following all traffic laws. This means never drive distracted, speed, drive the wrong way, express road rage, tailgate, turn improperly, drive drowsy, reckless or fatigued, drive drunk, run a red light, drive under the influence, and operate your vehicle during inclement weather including fog, rainstorms, and severe snowstorms.
Driving responsively and defensively can help minimize potential being involved in a car crash that leads to severe injury or death.