Investing in star ratings pays off in road safety

A roundabout at a dangerous intersection helped the Zhejiang road design achieve the desired 3-star rating.

Star ratings are an internationally recognized, evidence-based approach to guiding design and investment for safer road transport.

Star ratings are increasingly being used to guide road infrastructure projects and policies throughout Asia and the Pacific. ADB prefers that designs for new roads or to upgrade existing ones have at least a 3-star rating standard, and encourages all its developing member countries to rate their roads for safety.

But how does this system work, and how can it help improve road safety?

Star ratings are an international benchmark used to estimate the risk that a person—whether traveling in a vehicle, riding a motorcycle, walking, or cycling—will be killed or seriously injured on a given road. The ratings are based on a road’s design and speeds, with the lowest-risk roads rating 5-stars and the highest-risk roads rating 1-star.

Earlier this year I visited the mountains of Zhejiang province in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), where the government challenged designers to bring a 100 km-long road into line with international safety standards, setting a goal of achieving at least a 3-star rating.

Designers came up with a scheme that includes a roundabout at a notoriously dangerous intersection, safety barriers in mountainous sections, wide and colored centerlines to better separate opposing traffic, active-feedback speed limit signs that remind drivers of their speed, and lanes to protect vehicles when they slow to turn at intersections.

Prior to committing to installing the countermeasures, the designers could check that the scheme would in fact achieve the 3-star target. In places where the target would not be met, adjustments to the designs could be made.

The tools that enable this approach are freely available through the online software ViDA. This Star Rating Demonstrator allows anyone with internet access to quickly calculate star ratings for a single road section with virtually any combination of design attributes.

The Zhejiang government ultimately managed to build road that achieved the 3-star target when drivers comply with newly lowered speed limits.

Star ratings gaining traction

Certainly, star ratings are no magic bullet for safety and numerous opportunities for further improvement exist. But the government does expect that in coming years the incidence of crashes that in the past have deeply traumatized families and communities will be substantially cut.

The Zhejiang project is one of a dozen similar pilots that are part of the PRC’s enormous “Highway Safety to Cherish Lives” initiative. These pilots are benefiting from the use of star rating risk assessment metrics. In fact, the PRC State Council recently endorsed the 13th national 5-year road safety plan, which calls on provinces to make use of risk assessments in all road projects.

The PRC’s experience is mirrored in a diverse range of countries throughout the region. This year, Malaysia set a goal of ensuring that 75% of travel is on roads with 3-star ratings and above by 2020. In Australia, efforts are underway to make 90% of travel on the national network at 3 stars or better. Fiji is also working to lift the percentage of key transport infrastructure rated at 3 stars or better.

More and more, governments are using star ratings as an internationally recognized, evidence-based approach to guiding design and investment and for policy setting. Why? Because investing in safer road infrastructure results in safer, happier, and more productive communities.

The need for evidence-based, data-driven tools to support road safety—for infrastructure, vehicle safety and road user behavior—is more important now than ever before. The OECD’s most recent international report raises the alarming prospect that, after a period of stabilization, road deaths may now be increasing.

Among 31 countries for which data are consistently available, there was a 3.3% increase in road fatalities in 2015 compared to the year before. In 2016, the number of fatalities increased in 14 countries. Ten countries registered more road deaths for two consecutive years in 2015 and 2016.

To complement the existing suite of online star rating tools, ADB will soon be releasing a Star Ratings for Schools tool to help school communities do their part to tackle what is the leading cause of death for young people worldwide.

This is part of an effort to make these risk assessment tools more accessible to more people around the world, and help save lives on our roads.

This blog was first published on the Asian Development Blog.

Contact Person

Greg Smith
Managing Director
International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) Strategic Projects