Safer Roads by Design Comes to Costa Rica

Costa Rica SRbDIRF’s itinerant cycle of training seminars aimed at helping countries eliminate needless deaths and meet their commitments to the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety made a notable stop in San Jose, Costa Rica on September 12-14.

Safer Roads by Design – Costa Rica was hosted by the National Laboratory of Materials and Structural Models of the University of Costa Rica (Lanamme UCR), the country’s leading knowledge centre on road engineering, with additional support from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States. Delegates from eight countries representing a cross-section of Latin American road safety agencies, manufacturers, engineering consultancies and academia took part in this event, providing a fertile ground for a regional exchange of perspectives among road safety stakeholders.

In many ways, Costa Rica is at a turning point. In 2011, fatalities stood at 607, down from a high of 750 in 2008, but with an over-representation of two-wheelers and pedestrians. Pedestrians alone make up a third of total road traffic injuries, a much higher figure than is generally prevalent in the region, while cycling remains a popular commuting option. Any plan to curb serious injuries and deaths must include explicit provisions for these vulnerable road users.

In 2009, an inspection carried out by the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP) reviewed 2,801 km of roads, approximately 64% of Costa Rica’s paved national highways, including Pan American Highway (Routes 1 and 2) from Nicaragua to Panama. The assessment identified key countermeasures with the potential to reduce deaths and injuries involving vulnerable road users, including footpaths separated from or adjacent to the roadway, new pedestrian crossings, and sealed shoulders offering a hard surface for pedestrians and bicyclists outside the travel lanes. The resulting programme was estimated by iRAP to save 1,300 lives and prevent 13,000 serious injuries over a 20-year period, equivalent to an 11% reduction in Costa Rica’s annual highway fatalities, for an initial expenditure of US$50 million.

Best practices in safe road engineering presented on this occasion come as Lanamme UCR has begun field-testing a roadside safety design manual in an effort to encourage the country’s road engineers to identify hazards before these translate into serious injury and death for road users. In line with IRF’s own recommendations, the guide discourages the use of “fishtails” ends in favour of crashworthy terminals. However, funding safer road engineering remains a challenge: crash cushions hit by errant vehicles are sometimes left without repair for a year or more.

Feedback from delegates and the host organization was extremely encouraging and plans are already afoot for a new IRF seminar in the region. IRF expresses its gratitude for the industry partners which made the event possible: Trinity Highway Products International, Barrier Systems International and Transpo Industries.

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