Clear Zones

Posted Thursday, September 08, 2016 by Ed Harper

Clear Zones

Experts agree that auto accidents due to fixed immovable objects are a hazard that impacts all users of our state’s highways. The area surrounding the highway is also the government’s responsibility. This includes a “clear zone”. A “clear zone” is the area adjacent to the roadway where it is foreseeable that vehicles could drive even though this area is not deemed part of the roadway itself. According to AASHTO (American Assoc. of State Highway and Transportation Officials) “the term clear zone is used to designate the unobstructed, relatively flat area provided beyond the edge of the traveled way for the recovery of errant vehicles”.

This includes what is commonly known as the shoulder, recoverable slope, run out area, or a turn out. Engineers measure the distance of this clear zone from the inside of the fog line away from the road.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, roadside objects play an integral role in the safety of drivers and passengers on roads. Fixed, immovable objects on the sides of roads have been identified as hazardous to cars, especially as they enter and leave the roadway. The definition of what constitutes a “fixed object”, according the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) includes items such as the following:

The mandate for new or redesigned roads are 10 foot clear zones for 35 mph roads and greater for higher speed roads.

Municipalities – city, state, and county governments – may be found negligent for having a roadway defect, including a fixed object with in this 10 foot clear zone. Governments in regard to clear zones need to take a pro-active approach vs. a reactive approach. This, in conjunction with the Wuthrich ruling, (see previous blog post) for assessment and possible removal of roadside vegetation will hopefully make drivers and their passengers safer. Identification and then inventory of dangerous hazards, and enacting a coordinated plan to remove potentially dangerous hazards (or guard against them) before it’s too late.

Rural roadways often have immense numbers of trees and other objects which pose safety hazards, but a highway must be reasonably safe for ordinary travel. Further, removal of dangerous conditions is the municipalities’ (state and utility district’s) responsibility. No longer will municipalities and the state be allowed to argue the vast number of objects as a defense.

Removing roadside trees or installing guardrails on rural roads will save lives.

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