Geometric design, speed, and safety

Richard Porter, Eric Donnell, John Mason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


A performance-based approach to the interaction of geometric design, speed, and safety is considered given the availability of two key documents: the Highway Safety Manual and Modeling Operating Speed: Synthesis Report. A historical look at the concept of design speed shows that although the definition of design speed has changed on more than one occasion, the same basic philosophy that related design speed to a safe speed is still reflected in current policy in supplemental guidance related to the selection of design speed. A conservative approach to establishing design criteria, used to address the range of driver, vehicle, and roadway conditions and capabilities that a designer must consider, is demonstrated. Operating speeds are shown to be higher than design speeds for design speeds of approximately 55 mph or less. This outcome may be considered undesirable, but that categorization seems to be based more on subjective judgments of what is desirable than on actual safety findings. Finally, the idea of speed management through the use of roadway geometrics (i.e., geometric designs that influence driver selection of operating speed)-one component of self-enforcing, self-explaining roadway design-is explored. Findings uncover possible challenges to implementing this idea. Five related questions are addressed: (a) What is known about the relationships between road geometry and operating speeds? (b) To what degree does road geometry influence operating speeds? (c) How are safety and security influenced by road geometry? (d) What are the potential impacts on large vehicles? and (e) What is the nature of the speed-safety trade-off?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-47
Number of pages9
JournalTransportation Research Record
Issue number2309
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Geometric design, speed, and safety'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this