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GOLDEN: Georgia DOT safety efforts paying off

The number 1,744 is roughly the population of the town of Darien on Georgia’s coast; or of Richland in Stewart County — home of the annual Pig Fest festival.

It’s also the number of lives lost on Georgia highways in 2005. The fourth highest total of any state and a jarring wake-up call to the Georgia DOT — an agency with safety its primary mission.

Fatalities have decreased every year since, and 2010 is on track to continue the positive trend. The annual number of deaths on Georgia roadways declined by 449 from 2005-09. This was more than good fortune and coincidence; it also was lives saved as the result of a concerted effort by the DOT and other agencies to make Georgia’s roads safer.

That effort is centered on DOT’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan. That plan features data-driven emphasis areas focused on such things as affordable engineering solutions, enforcement, motorcycle safety, seatbelt use and impaired driving.

Public awareness campaigns are making a great difference, but much more is going on in the implementation of the SHSP. The DOT’s Office of Traffic Operations is refining our infrastructure to improve safety and further reduce incidents.

Every project is designed to meet or exceed federal safety guidelines. But employees are going above and beyond guidelines to look for more ways to improve safety.

One example is a focus on dividing traffic flows with the installation of medians, which have been proven to save lives. Raised medians reduce accidents by 55 percent, thus dramatically reducing head-on collisions. Pedestrian incidents are slashed by 80 percent on urban roads with medians.

Another effort focuses on preventing vehicles from leaving roadways. Rumble strips along shoulders and centerlines, improving drainage and use of reflective tape and striping all are part of the effort. If a vehicle does leave the roadway, safety measures have been implemented to minimize dangers. These include installation of cable barriers or guardrails, relocation of utility poles and removal of trees and vegetation that present collision hazards.

Georgia DOT often is criticized when trees are removed from roadways, but collisions with trees account for more than 25 percent of all vehicle fatalities and are the most common collision object in the U.S.

Intersections are another focus. DOT engineers look at incident data for intersections around the state and routinely make changes to improve performance and safety. Adjustments to signal timing; use of larger traffic signals with enhanced lighting; additional signage and other efforts are used to lower incident rates.

Pedestrian safety is just as important. There is a heavy emphasis placed on intersections where pedestrian traffic is greatest. Research shows that less than five percent of pedestrian fatalities occur within marked crosswalks at intersections with traffic signals. Similarly, an improperly located crosswalk can create greater danger for pedestrians. So the DOT is focused on adding appropriate accommodations while also improving existing facilities.

Safety enhancements aren’t as visible as new roads or bridges; they usually go unnoticed. But they are an integral part of the DOT’s mission. The workers that implement the program are among the many DOT groups committed to providing a safe, seamless and sustainable transportation system that supports Georgia’s economy and is sensitive to both its residents and environment.

Keith Golden is the Director of Operations of the Georgia Department of Transportation.