Friday, 22 August 2014

The Relevance Of Road Safety Audit

I am sure many of you will have at least heard the term "Road Safety Audit", even if you haven't the faintest idea what it is (although the clue is in the name!)

You may have even heard people referring to schemes as either "passing" or "failing" a Road Safety Audit (RSA) - well put that straight out of your mind, there is no such thing. A RSA does not approve or reject a scheme, that is the job and the responsibility of the highway authority and those making the decisions. Put simply, a Road Safety Audit (or RSA) is an independent assessment of the road safety impacts of a highway scheme on all users, including those maintaining the asset and is a useful independent check on the safety implications of a scheme.

As is often the case, the standards (and guidance) stems from the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) and is covered in HD19/03. The DMRB is mandatory on Highways Agency operated trunk roads and motorways and as such does not always translate well to local roads. As far as RSA goes, many authorities have their own versions and procedures in place such as Transport for London (linked to without endorsement or judgement); but the principles remain the same. If you are really interested in the detailed mechanics of RSA, I recommend reading HD19/03 as it is full of the definitions and structure of the audit process - far more detail than I will be boring you with here!

I also recommend you visit the Road Safety Audit interactive website developed by CIHT, TMS, Lancashire CC and DfT. The site has pretty comprehensive checklists of things for auditors to consider. I have to praise TMS here - they are a consultant which aside from many things, has undertaken over 11,000 RSAs. They are also skilled at auditing highway schemes from the point of view of vulnerable users. I have read many of their audits and they are always thorough.

Competency of Auditors I am not a road safety auditor. To call myself one, I would need to be able to demonstrate a track record of safety auditing, have a relevant set continuing professional development (CPD) activities and experience in road safety engineering. I do maintain my CPD as a matter of course and could demonstrate the background required, but as I don't undertake RSA myself, I cannot call myself an auditor - I know what to look for in terms of auditor competency and content of a RSA; and in my day job, I do review quite a lot put forward by developers.

The requirement for auditors to be competent comes from Article 9 of EU Directive 2008/96/EC which is concerned about the safety of the Trans-European Road Network (TERN), itself part of a wider set of transport networks. For the UK, this trickles down to a fair bit of our motorway and trunk road network. For RSA, this Directive meant that by and after December 2011, those undertaking audits must have relevant training and hold a certificate of competence - of course, only mandatory for those working on the Trans-European road network and therefore motorways and trunk roads (mandatory under HD19/03 as mentioned above). The TERN is very much for long-distance road transport and this probably shines through the DMRB in terms of the priority afforded to walking and cycling in the design standards.

The UK Government was pretty useless in sorting out auditor standards and so in practice, the industry reacted to make sure people were (and are) qualified, whether or not local procedures are in place to vary the policy or details of the RSA process  The Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT), through its Society of Road Safety Auditors (SoRSA) seeks to coordinate and disseminate best practice and for those meeting various training and experience requirements, they issue professional qualifications and a Certificate of Competency for practitioners. For example, I am an Associate Member of SoRSA which shows I have the basic training and road safety engineering background. A full Member would be able to show more detailed training and a track record of performing RSAs. A Fellow would be a leading specialist in RSA. The Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE) also runs a similar arrangement for its members.

The other interesting thing to note is the more wider experience of an auditor. There is such a wide range of layouts and design options on the road network, it is simply not possible to be an expert in all of them. Like me, many highway engineers are generalists and so for certain schemes, the advice of experts might be needed when a design is being developed. It is no different for safety auditors. For example, while an auditor will have a working knowledge of traffic signal operation, for a complicated junction, additional advice will be required from a signals engineer. For issues affecting blind and partially-sighted people, the auditor may wish to discuss a scheme with a local support organisation.

Of course, this does start to lead us down the debate as to whether auditors need to have had specific training or at least demonstrable experience in cycling, walking and disabled user issues - in my view yes. In fact, auditors will need to have had experience in design to be able to understand how things fit together. My argument could extend to driving of course, but from any user point of view, it is important that the auditor understands the issues without necessarily being a "driver" or "cyclist" or "pedestrian". Actually, auditors should also have an appreciation of issues for powered two-wheelers.  Yes, I have spent a bit of time on the competency of safety auditors, but my general point is that they should understand the design process and the issues facing all road users - they need to be rounded and experienced engineers foremost.

The Audit Process Audits are rarely undertaken by an individual (expect for simple Stage 1 audits) and would normally be two people for most audits, with more as required. The team would comprise of a "Audit Team Leader" who should be very experienced, "Audit Team Members" and sometimes "Audit Team Observers" who are essentially auditors gaining experience and who are expected to contribute to the process. We also have "Specialist Advisors" as required (such as the signals example given above). Another important thing to note is that those involved in audit must be completely separate from those involved in design because of the clear conflict of interest. It doesn't necessarily mean people must be from different organisations, just that things are separated to maintain objectivity.

There are 4 general stages to the RSA process, unsurprisingly, Stages 1 to 4. A Stage 1 RSA is at initial design stage, really before much of the detail is worked up. It can help the designer to get another view from a pure road safety point of view before too much detailed (and costly) work is undertaken. Generally speaking for most highway authorities, the larger schemes only will be subject to Stage 1 along with developers submitting a planning application. With developers, some see RSA as one item on a long list of things to do when making a planning application, but that is no bad thing.

Stage 2 is at detailed design stage and for smaller schemes, Stages 1 and 2 are often combined. For example, if a RSA was being done on a stand along zebra crossing, a combined Stage 1/2 might be done as the difference between initial and detailed design is often quite small. It doesn't stop a crossing location being subjected to Stage 1 based on a quick plan, but this doesn't happen much in practice (of course it would on a Highways Agency scheme where RSA is mandatory).

Stage 3 is at completion of construction and ideally before the road is opened. In practice, where the scheme is an addition to a live road, a Stage 3 cannot be done before "opening" and so HD19/03 requires within 1 month of "opening". Individual highway authorities may have their own process. 

Stage 4 is not always used, especially where developers are concerned as it deals with monitoring which is pretty much the job of the local highway authority anyway. HD19/03 suggests monitoring during the first year of operation and then a formal accident review at 1 and 3 years after opening. In my experience, not often done. (accident is used throughout the standard - I prefer collision).

As mentioned above, the RSA is a process where the safety aspects of a highway scheme are assessed. It is not a check on design standards, it is not an opportunity for an auditor to redesign a scheme (more on that later) and it is certainly not a process to endorse or condemn a scheme. It is also not the role of the auditor to redesign the scheme or to make design changes - apart from taking on design responsibility (which is another whole area of legislation and liability), designers are employed to design the scheme. I would suggest, however, that training designers in road safety audit is very valuable as they will often spot things and make changes which designers not trained in RSA will miss.

The RSA (at whichever stage) is a formal process which ends in a report set out in a standard way which seems a little strained to the casual observer, but is designed to be a consistent approach. Before the RSA takes place, it is vital for the correct brief to be provided to the audit team. For me, this is probably as important as having competent auditors as if the brief is crap, the audit will be crap and of little value.

The audit brief will provide the audit team the scope of the scheme to be audited along with full details and relevant supporting information. I have seen audit reports submitted where the scantest information has been provided to the auditor - little more than a plan in many cases and no wonder the audit team struggle. At Stage 1, it might just be a sketch on a plan, but it would greatly help if information such as traffic flow and speeds could be provided. Perhaps for my zebra crossing example, a map of the area showing schools or shops might help.

Despite what some consultants working for developers would have you believe, the whole audit team should visit the site. Yes, it is obvious, but some try and get away with sending one person, especially at Stage 1, to try and save a few quid on site visits. This is not right as how can one comment on the issues without visiting the site - that is almost as bad as me commenting on sites I haven't been to (oh, wait!). You cannot design without visiting the site and you certainly cannot audit without visiting either. At Stage 3, the standard requires a night visit (to look for any issues not apparent during the day) and again, some people try and skip that because of the cost (worse hanging around for dark in the summer of course).

So, to the audit report. The format will broadly be as follows (from the standard):

  • A brief description of the proposed scheme;
  • Identification of the audit stage and team membership as well as the names of others contributing;
  • Details of who was present at the site visit, when it was undertaken and what the site
  • conditions were on the day of the visit (weather, traffic congestion, etc.);
  • The specific road safety problems identified, supported with the background reasoning;
  • Recommendations for action to mitigate or remove the problems;
  • A3 or A4 location map, marked up and referenced to problems and, if available, photographs of the problems identified;
  • A statement, signed by the Audit Team Leader in the format given at Annex D [of the standard]; and
  • A list of documents and drawings considered for the audit.

The road safety problems which are identified should also be presented individually with a recommendation. The standard has a series of checklists for Stages 1, 2 and 3 which try and make all audits consistent. The report would also consider previous audits (if undertaken) and any recommendations or changes made. Each problem will be set out with its location, a summary (including the type of collisions which could occur) and a recommendation. It is bad practice for an auditor to recommend "monitoring" unless the issue is really minor - he or she needs to get off the fence.

London Road roundabout, Clacton-on-Sea.
Image adapted from Google Maps.
So, let's have an example. The image here is of a roundabout junction on the A133 as it enters Clacton-on-Sea in Essex. I have circled a staggered zebra crossing and so let's just assume the proposal is to change an existing uncontrolled pedestrian crossing to this one with the zebra crossings to make things safer for pedestrians.

The A133 as it approaches the area is a wide single carriageway road subject to the National speed limit which steps down to 30mph around 100 metres before the roundabout. As the road approaches the roundabout, it opens up from one lane to two lanes for about 25 metres before the give way point on the roundabout. The design is for a staggered zebra crossing (i.e. people cross two, distinctly separate crossings) and although there may well be lots to mention in the RSA for the roundabout as a whole, I will concentrate on this one arm for this example.

So, in the format of the RSA (normally section 3 of a report) and assuming a Stage 1 RSA, here are a couple of problems which could be identified:



North-western arm, approaching roundabout.

Excessive traffic speeds approaching crossing/ roundabout. Site observations suggest speeds above 30mph speed limit which could result in vehicles overshooting zebra crossing when being used by pedestrians.

Provide measures to ensure approach speeds to ensure they are low enough for drivers to be able to stop when the crossing is being used.


North-western arm, approaching roundabout.

Visibility of pedestrians crossing. The two lane approach to the crossing could create conditions whereby one lane is free flowing and one with queues. The queueing lane could mask pedestrians crossing from the free flowing lane putting them at risk of being hit by a vehicle in the free-flowing lane.

Consider suitability of multi-lane approach to zebra crossing or consider alternative method of control.

OK, I could go on and do a whole report, but this is a long enough post as it is. You will note that although the process is laborious, it is designed to be logical and consistent which allows the issues raised to be considered logically. The auditor does not add any weight to an issue, does not rank the issues or undertake any design work. With the first problem, it would now be up to the designer to consider the approach speeds and decide whether to make changes. It could be that as this is a Stage 1 RSA, no traffic data has been gathered and when speeds are checked, they are appropriate for the provision of a zebra crossing.

The second issue is harder for the designer to deal with as the auditor has highlighted a pretty fundamental potential issue with multi-lane approaches to zebra crossings. On further thought, the designer may decide that the layout is acceptable (as traffic data shows queueing unlikely) or might decide that a traffic signal controlled option is better. In real life, there is a cycle track around this roundabout and perhaps a Toucan crossing which can be used by cyclists might be more appropriate? A Toucan crossing would also have traffic speed detection which could deal with the first problem (if it is a problem).

At Stage 1, it should be relatively simple to make changes to a scheme. It might be that a layout or part of it might not be appropriate and the recommendation is to change it as above. But what if the zebra crossing remains the favoured design and the scheme is subjected to a Stage 2 RSA with no changes? The auditor is not there to design the scheme and can only raise safety issues at this stage which makes life tricky for the auditor if the issues are still fundamental.

The difficulty at Stage 2 is that the design has crystallised after a lot of effort and the danger is that the designer and indeed the scheme promoter have a "pride of authorship" or perhaps have their heads stuck in the sand - a fair bit of money might have been spent by this stage. A good auditor will need hold their nerve and remain objective. In my example, the same issues should be restated unless evidence has been provided to deal with the issues.

So, what happens at Stage 3? In my example, let's assume the zebra crossings went in as designed and the concerns raised in the audit where not dealt with. It may be that no problems ever materialise and the audit is accused (perhaps not openly) of being over cautious. Having at least two people auditing gives some quality control as they are expected to debate the issues and only include them if they are real road safety issues. It might happen, but I would rather be cautious than cavalier.

When the site is reviewed at Stage 3, it may be that approach speeds are still too high. It would still be possible to recommend speed reduction measures as they could be installed (it might cost of course). If the pedestrian masking is still a problem, it is probably not helpful for the audit to recommend a different type of crossing and so it is hard to make useful recommendations in many cases when things have been built. Often, an audit will recommend warning signs in a situation like this which is a bit of a cop out, but one caused by the designer/ scheme promoter.

Once an audit has been completed an the report issued to the project sponsor (i.e. the person responsible for the project, not the designer), then it is usual practice for the designer/ design team to formally respond to the issues raised (known as a designer's response), although the person with overall responsibility for the project is the one to ultimately decide if the issues raised by the audit are significant. Any items not considered significant should be formally recorded as such (and with reasons) in an exception report - although it is ultimately the decision of the highway authority what gets built.

Limitations & Issues
The process to HD19/03 is more extensive and detailed than I have set out and is predicated on a decent level of resource for schemes, including staff. For a small highway authority working on small schemes, they are unlikely to have the resources of the Highways Agency or a large county council and it means that the person responsible for the scheme might be the highway authority representative and the designer - in this situation, people need to be open and record their thoughts and decisions as it is the only way to remain objective.

It might also mean that many schemes don't get subjected to a safety audit on cost grounds. For example, a straight-forward zebra crossing might cost £20k and a three stage RSA might cost another 15% of that budget. I am not suggesting this is right or wrong, just a reality of budgets.

What of innovative, dare I suggest radical schemes? There should be no difference to the process. It might be the auditor is not familiar wit the concepts involved and they need to be properly explained in the audit brief - perhaps with a statement provided by the designer on how the scheme is intended to work. 

Take this image of a bus stop bypass on Lewes Road, Brighton. I can imagine an audit raising safety problems with people crossing away from the dropped kerbs, on the far side of the bus shelter and not being seen by cyclists. Yes, this is a valid safety issue, but could an auditor recommend anything sensible to deal with the issue - guard rail on the far side of the shelter perhaps? 

Actually, this kind of "problem" would be a sign that the audit team perhaps didn't understand the scheme or might be over-cautious. The dropped kerbs are provided for people with reduced vision or mobility. There is nothing "wrong" with people crossing elsewhere - they have the cues around them of needing to step down into the cycle track. Had the dropped kerbs not been provided, then that might be raised as a problem. This goes back to the designer(s) explaining the scheme at the audit brief stage and perhaps (in my opinion) the auditor needing to have had experience of this kind of design or consulting with someone who does.

Another example. Bromells Road at Clapham, which has the footway of the main road ("The Pavement") continuing across the junction. The point of the scheme is to give reinforced priority to pedestrians over traffic leaving the side road. This would need to be explained in the audit brief otherwise the auditors might be concerned about blind and partially sighted people not knowing where the extents of the carriageway are (there are none, it is all footway which vehicles have to cross).

The other pitfall is where different layouts are subjected to a RSA and this is used by scheme promoters to pick the "safest" one. This is very bad practice because of the lack of weight given by the auditors. In my example, a Toucan crossing and a zebra crossing might throw up different issues and so suggest one is safer than the other is wrong - it depends on so many variables, it wouldn't be comparing like with like.

There are other audits which can be used to complement RSA such as a Quality Audit (see 3.7 of Manual for Streets). A Quality Audit (QA) might contain a wide range of elements and it will be for the decision makers to decide on how thing are weighed up in the final analysis. MfS suggests that a QA may include all or some of the following;

  • an audit of visual quality;
  • a review of how the streets will be used by the community;
  • a road safety audit, including a risk assessment;
  • an access audit;
  • a walking audit;
  • a cycle audit;
  • a non-motorised user audit;
  • a community street audit (in existing streets); and
  • a Placecheck audit.

Other people being involved in reviewing schemes from the point of view of various users or from an architectural point of view can add value to a scheme, but as with the RSA, the responsibility for the scheme remains with the designer(s) and those making the decisions and any audit process shuld be reviewed with the scheme objectives as a benchmark. Beware of any highway authority (or indeed developer or designer) who suggests that a scheme is fine because it "passed its safety audit" or "the safety audit didn't raise that issue" - the auditor might have missed something or wasn't given the full details.

Final Thoughts
Returning back to my starting point. I have often heard people say "how did that scheme pass a safety audit". Well, assuming it was subjected to a RSA, it is not a pass or fail and I hope that this post has given you some insight as to why. What people examine is how the design process was progressed and how the decision was made. If a RSA was undertaken, what was picked up by it? What was the designer's response? What weight did the person responsible for the scheme give the issues? Did the decision maker know all of the issues? Sometimes, there might be potential safety issues with a scheme, but in the final analysis, the decision is taken to build it. 

Road Safety Audit is just one of the tools highway engineers can use to help them design a scheme. It is not the auditor's job to design the scheme, merely point out potential road safety issues. If you are reading a RSA as a campaigner, it won't be enough. You need to be reading it in conjunction with the audit brief, a designer response and an exception report to get the full picture.


  1. As a general rule I would suggest that RSAs basically back up the status quo.

    As you say, the purpose of n innovative scheme has to be explained to auditors who will tend to see flaws in it if it is different from normal schemes.

    Something like guardrail removal will be frowned upon - I would say anything which tends to give more freedom to cyclists and pedestrians. On the other hand, anything which we know will involve adaptive (risk compensatory) behaviour by drivers will be overlooked. That's my (probably cynical) view.

    This comes from my opposition to "road safety" , which should be replaced by REAL road safety, which is road danger reduction.

    Dr Robert Davis Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum

  2. so how the bleep did this get through the audit?

    1. Nooooooooooooooooooooooo! :)

      The correct questions:

      1) What are the scheme objectives?

      2) What was the audit brief?

      3) What experience does the audit team have with complicated traffic signal junctions with separate stages for bikes?

      4) What safety issues have been raised in the RSA?

      5) What is the designer's response?

      5) What is the scheme promoter's view?

      Question 1 is the most fundamental as if the objectives are duff, then so the scheme. The problem in my view is that it is trying to maintain traffic capacity, but once you signalise a roundabout of this size, it will lock up.

      I would be very interested to see the answers to those 5 questions!

  3. "so how the bleep did this get through the audit?"
    Do you know if it's been subject to a (Stage 1) Audit yet, or is it still a more-or-less blue-sky idea for the papers?

    "Something like guardrail removal will be frowned upon - I would say anything which tends to give more freedom to cyclists and pedestrians. On the other hand, anything which we know will involve adaptive (risk compensatory) behaviour by drivers will be overlooked. That's my (probably cynical) view."
    I would say that is a cynical view and you are out of date, certainly wrt things like guardrail. There has been real debate about this issue following TfLs lead - their risk assessment approach should be well known to Auditors, particularly since we have to prove we have undergone appropriate structured training every year if we are to retain the MSoRSA accreditation (no other branch of highway/traffic engineering needs to do that). However, your ideas also seem in direct contrast to those countries committed to Vision Zero, Scandiwegia and the Netherlands - e.g. forgiving roadsides where mistakes, even those made on purpose (speeding, etc.) are not fatal.

    Andy R.

    1. I have removed guardrail as part of basic footway repave scheme using a combination first principles and risk assessment - I have had complaints about the removals, but I have recorded the process in a report which people are at liberty to disagree with, but it is logical and defensible.

      I think RSA is changing and if auditors do not keep up with developments, then they will struggle with competency - certainly SoRSA is proactive in debating and discussing how things are evolving.

      It still stems back to the scheme objective and if (even when not stated explicitly) it is in fact to maintain the status quo, then the RSA will only point out the safety issues with a status quo scheme.

      I do agree that auditors need more knowledge on walking and cycling issues and certainly the training I have been on most recently does reflect this.

  4. I think Andy R's comment was directed at me.

    His first point:
    OK, probably too cynical about RSA - and I think you are right Andy R. that some guardrail removal will now slot into schemes which pass RSA. Also, another good sign is TfL's research on centre line removal could lead to changes there too: Same principle of reversing previous ideas. Hopefully after this reducing width of hatching, or bringing it down to double or single whites, as well as maybe removing centre lines, will happen more easily with RSA auditors accepting it as justifiable.

    The next bit here gets a bit confusing"However, your ideas also seem in direct contrast to those countries committed to Vision Zero, Scandiwegia and the Netherlands - e.g. forgiving roadsides where mistakes, even those made on purpose (speeding, etc.) are not fatal."

    My ideas are indeed different to Vision Zero as zero casualties can slot in neatly to not having cyclists or pedestrians about. For how numbers link into cyclist (and pedestrian ) safety, see:

    Creating a forgiving environment for careless/reckless/rule or law breaking drivers, whether through changing the car or highway environment has serious adverse implications for pedestrians and cyclists. I believe that it has been part of "road safety" culture for about 75 years, and RSA is part of it.

    Finally, the Battersea scheme may well have only gone through Part One. It may well not pass the full RSA.

    Robert Davis.

    1. No! The Battersea scheme may have been subjected to a Stage 1 RSA, but there is no pass or fail - please re-read the post. The job of the audit is to comment on road safety problems, not to "pass" or "fail" the scheme.

      The final decision is with the highway authority and its decision-makers. Too many people use RSA as a "shield" against making their own decisions or recommendations.

  5. Re- my last sentence: of course you re right on pass/fail.

    What I should have said is that an RSA MIGHT suggest that some of the problems highlighted by others were of concern.

    My main points are above that last para.


  6. I agree that road safety auditors should have specific training before being certified or accredited as a qualified auditor. It would be best if there was a standard, that all auditors be knowledgeable on different safety aspects, even if at the basic or intermediate level. Anyway, I find this post quite interesting. Thanks for raising our awareness. All the best!

    Kent Gregory @ Armature