Blue police lights flash in the night.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Supports UA Study

Blue police lights flash in the night.
Responders can include highway assistance patrol, police, fire, emergency medical service and towing, among others.

Responders to traffic incidents or crashes can be injured – or worse – while resolving the incident. Often personnel are not able to comply with safety guidelines.

Transportation researchers at The University of Alabama are leading an effort to understand safety for those who respond to traffic incidents. The hope is to prevent injuries or death.

“Roads and highways have become one of the most dangerous places to work for personnel who respond to all kinds of incidents,” said Dr. Jun Liu, UA assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. “This project will provide findings to help implement existing countermeasures or develop new countermeasures that can effectively enhance the safety of roadside service and incident response personnel.”

The work is funded by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and it will be used by the organization to improve safety and provide information and best practices to first responders.

UA researchers will also work with the Alabama Department of Transportation and national stakeholders in the area of traffic incident management to disseminate the results.

“This project will provide a platform for stakeholders and responders to exchange their experiences with enhancing responder safety and raise public awareness regarding responder safety,” Liu said.

Responders can include highway assistance patrol, police, fire, emergency medical service and towing, among others. Traffic incidents can include motor vehicle crashes, fires, medical emergencies, disabled vehicles, law enforcement activities and other unplanned events that cause injuries, property damage or traffic delays.

Emergency Responder Safety Institute’s 2019 Responder Safety Report found vehicles struck and killed 44 emergency responders.

“All responders are supposed to comply with guidelines while responding to traffic incidents, however there might be some cases of failing to properly follow the rules or the situation does not support compliance, such as limited space for rescue and incident clearance,” Liu said.

“This project will also investigate the reasons why safety guidelines are not complied with,” he said. “Since such data is not easy to gather, we will collect information from responders through a national survey.”

UA researchers seek to identify and evaluate compliance with safety protocols and use of safety equipment while understanding the reasons for situations of non-compliance. They will first work with ALDOT Regional Traffic Management Centers and the Alabama Traffic Incident Management program to gather data through focus groups on existing practices and their effectiveness. This information will be used to devise a survey to be distributed to about 1,000 traffic incident responders nationwide.

With data on effective safety measures and why responders might not use them in certain situations, UA researchers will work with the Alabama Service Assistance Patrol to implement some of the measures and possibly study their use through dash cams.

Along with Liu, UA researchers on the project include Dr. Alexander Hainen, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, along with staff members from the Alabama Transportation Institute, including associate research engineers Dr. Praveena Penmetsa and Timothy Barnett, post-doctoral research associate Dr. Xiaobing Li and outreach director Justice Smyth.