McCartt, Anne T.; Shabanova Northrup, Veronika; Retting, Richard A.
Journal of Safety Research
Freeway entrance and exit ramp interchanges are the sites of far more crashes per mile driven than other segments of interstate highways, but the characteristics and circumstances of ramp crashes have been the subject of relatively little recent research.
This study examined a sample of 1,150 crashes that occurred on heavily traveled urban interstate ramps in Northern Virginia. Based on a review of diagrams and narrative descriptions from police crash reports, the most common crash types were identified and examined for different roadway locations and ramp designs and by whether at-fault drivers were entering or exiting the freeway.
About half of all crashes occurred when at-fault drivers were in the process of exiting interstates, 36% occurred when drivers were entering, and 16% occurred at the midpoints of access roads or on ramps connecting two interstate freeways. Three major crash types--run-off-road, rear-end, and sideswipe/cutoff--accounted for 95% of crashes in the study. The crash type most frequently associated with exiting was run-off-road, and the types most common with entering drivers were rear-end or sideswipe/cutoff. Crashes most common on ramps--run-off-road crashes--frequently occurred when vehicles were exiting interstates at night, in bad weather, or on curved portions of ramps. Speed was often a factor. Crashes occurring on ramp margins (where ramps or access roads enter or exit) were most commonly of the sideswipe/cutoff type. These often involved at-fault passenger vehicles merging from entrance ramps into the sides of large trucks already on the freeway. The predominant crash type on access roads was rear-end crashes; congestion was a factor in these crashes. Alcohol was a reported factor in a sizeable proportion of run-off-road crashes occurring on ramps (14%) and ramp margins (30%).
Impact on industry:
Candidate countermeasures for run-off-road crashes include geometric design changes to increase ramp design speed such as increasing curve radii. Speed-related crashes may be reduced by the use of speed cameras accompanied by publicity. Rear-end crash countermeasures could include surveillance systems that quickly detect unexpected congestion, incident response programs, and variable message signs to alert drivers to traffic congestion ahead. Countermeasures for sideswipe/cutoff crashes could include extending the length of acceleration lanes.