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The Roadway

Overview

Few government services touch the lives of nearly every person in the U.S. as often or as critically as the surface transportation system. Whether it is a trip to the grocery store, a walk with the dog, a drive to the office, or the general movement of goods and services, transportation is an integral part of daily life. It is a complex system depending on the behavior and attitude of the users, the number and performance capabilities of the vehicles, and the conditions of the roadways and surrounding environment. A breakdown in any one of those areas can result in death, injury, property damage, and delay. There are some roadway features that can be especially challenging for drivers because they are unfamiliar or require extra vigilance, such as intersections, roundabouts, countdown pedestrian signals, and rural roads.

Roadway Features
Intersections
By their nature intersections can be complex roadway features. They are the one place where all roadway users come together in a mix with the greatest potential for conflict. When people age or become physically injured or impaired, making a common maneuver like a left turn at an intersection becomes more difficult due to a diminished ability to judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic or limitations with doing a visual search by turning the head right and left. It is important to understand your own limitations and to remember that other driver's physical and cognitive capabilities vary widely. 
 
In some cases, a protected left turn can help with this problem. A protected left turn is a green or red arrow on the traffic signal that allows drivers to turn left while oncoming traffic is stopped. Some drivers may see a flashing yellow arrow which means the driver can turn left, but first yield to oncoming traffic. A flashing circular yellow means to take extra caution and watch for crossing traffic.
 
When making a left turn across oncoming traffic it is important to remember that you cannot always see motorcycles, bicycles or pedestrians on the other side of cars approaching you. If you start your left turn too quickly after a car passes, you may find one of these in your path and not have time to stop. Click here to watch a short video that illustrates this situation. 
 
If you are uncomfortable making left turns, you can often avoid them altogether by going a block further and making three right turns around the extra block.

Roundabouts
One way that state Departments of Transportation have improved safety at intersections is through the installation of roundabouts. A modern roundabout is an unsignaled, circular intersection engineered to maximize safety and minimize traffic delay. While roundabouts help eliminate a number of safety problems, they also can be confusing for drivers when they are unfamiliar. ODOT has a Web page with information about roundabouts which includes a photo gallery and video clips.

Countdown Pedestrian Traffic Signals

Image of traffic walk indicatorCountdown pedestrian traffic signals improve the safety of walkers by reducing the number of pedestrians stranded in the crosswalk when the light changes. They consist of a regular pedestrian signal with standard shapes and color, and an added display showing the number of seconds left to cross the street. The walking speed and crossing distance are used to determine the countdown time. For instance, an eight-lane highway would have a longer countdown period than a four-lane road. Once the countdown period starts, a pedestrian should not start crossing the roadway. The driver’s response to a countdown pedestrian signal is the same action for any pedestrian in a crosswalk, the driver must stop and remain stopped for pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Rural Driving
Gravel Roadways
Gravel roadways are typical in Oregon’s rural and logging areas, and pose additional hazards compared to paved roadways. Stopping or turning on loose gravel is difficult because of reduced tire traction. A “washboard” effect can also occur on gravel roads. This is a series of potholes that can affect steering and vehicle control, and can literally shake up the vehicle and it's occupants. 
 
When driving on gravel, you should slow down since it will take much longer to stop and it is easier to skid and slide when turning and braking. During dry periods of the year, gravel roads can also become extremely dusty, which reduces visibility.

Unsignaled Intersections
Unsignaled intersections or those without a traffic light pose problems for all drivers. Vehicles that are stopping or slowing to turn create differences in speed that are often hard for drivers to judge. In addition, these roadways often carry vehicles traveling at high speeds. When entering an uncontrolled intersection slow down, prepare to yield, and look both ways before proceeding. In addition, know who goes first; yield to all pedestrians; and give way to emergency vehicles.

Slow moving farm vehicleSlow-Moving Vehicles
It is common to encounter slow-moving vehicles on rural roads, such as farm and road maintenance equipment. It is important to identify these vehicles early and slow down when meeting them or coming up behind. Slow-moving equipment may make wide turns, either left or right at unmarked entrances. Some farm equipment may be wider than the lane or road itself. Make sure that the driver of the slow-moving vehicle can see your vehicle before passing, and always use extreme caution while they are present.
 
Bicycles
Be especially alert for bicyclists which often use rural roadways. They are narrower than cars and harder to see. Use caution when passing them and avoid spraying them with road debris. Bicyclists should drive with traffic and wear clothing that is visible at night and during the day. 

Narrow Bridges

It is not uncommon in Oregon to encounter narrow and even single-lane bridges. Use caution and only cross when there is no oncoming traffic or approaching vehicles are stopped and waiting for you to cross. Do not just assume that there is room for two vehicles or that you automatically have the right-of-way.
 
Domesticated Animals
You may encounter cattle, horses and other domesticated animals while traveling on rural roads. Give them a wide berth and be patient as they are guided across the roadway by their handlers. Also, be careful not to spook them by honking or yelling. This will usually just make matters worse.
 
Wildlife
Drivers are at greatest risk for wildlife crashes at sunrise and sunset. Deer are by far the highest cause of animal-related automobile crashes. October and November are the peak months for deer crashes. If an animal is spotted, slow down and be prepared to stop. If there is not time to stop or avoid the animal, do not swerve sharply. A driver’s chance of getting seriously hurt are decreased if they hit the animal and avoid swerving into oncoming traffic or rolling the vehicle over into a ditch or waterway. Remember that deer travel in groups, so always look for more animals once one is spotted.

Related Information
Additional information that may be relevant includes:
  • The DMV drivers and ID index page provides all kinds of useful information related to drivers and driving, including an array of safe driving materials and information on how to report a problem driver to the proper authorities.
  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has developed a Roundabout Question and Answer Web page that includes a two minute video clip on How Roundabouts Work.
  • The mission of The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Office of Safety is to reduce highway fatalities by making roads safer through a data–driven, systematic approach and addressing all “4Es” of safety: engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency medical services. FHWA focuses on roadway infrastructure improvements. Their Web site has information on intersection safety, roadway departures, and local and rural road safety.