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ANALYSIS OF TRAFFIC SAFETY AT ROADWORKS

Wendy Weijermars
SWOV Institute for road safety research
Henk Spittje
CROW Technology Platform for Infrastructure, Traffic, Transport and Public Space
1.

INTRODUCTION

Roadworks create risks for both road workers and road users. To be able to take
effective measures to prevent crashes, insight into the causes and circumstances of
these crashes is crucial. SWOV conducted research to enhance this insight. This
research was funded by CROW and supervised by a group of roadwork safety
experts.
On the basis of a literature review and a study on crashes, information has been
gathered about the number, location, time and types of roadworks crashes.
Furthermore, an analysis of police reports of 58 KSI (killed and seriously injured)
crashes provided more insight into the causes of crashes at work zones. Finally, 50
work zones were visited to obtain more insight into (1) the extent to which the Dutch
guidelines for safe roadworks are applied and (2) work zone characteristics that
cause potentially unsafe situations.
This paper presents and discusses the main results from this research. Section 2
discusses the research methodology, Section 3 discusses the number, locations,
times, types and causes of the crashes and Section 4 discusses the safety at the
work zones that were visited. Section 5 discusses some limitations of this research,
and the main conclusions are summarized in Section 6.
2.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The research project discussed in this paper consisted of three parts. First, a
literature study was carried out to obtain more insight into the number, nature and
causes of road crashes at roadworks. The results from this literature study were used
to select a number of characteristics that were analyzed in a study on recent crashes
and in an analysis of police reports of KSI crashes.
For the study on recent crashes, we used a database which contains all crashes in
the Netherlands that are reported by the police. In this database, roadworks are
recorded as a special circumstance. We analyzed all KSI crashes for the period
1987-2006 and determined what number of crashes occurred at roadworks and their
proportion of the total number of crashes. This was done for different characteristics
(e.g. rural vs. urban roads and whether or not heavy traffic was involved in the
crashes. Furthermore, for all crashes that occurred at roadworks in 2005, police
reports were collected and analyzed in more detail. First the characteristics of the
work zone and the crash were determined and then a behavioural analysis was
performed. To this end, we investigated which changes in driving behaviour were
necessary as a consequence of the roadworks and which type of error (no or

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insufficient adaptation to the changed circumstances) was the main cause of the
crash. Different types of error were distinguished using the model of Michon (1989).
Michon distinguishes three levels in the driving task: the operational, the tactical and
the strategic level. The strategic level concerns general decisions about route and
vehicle choice. At the tactical level decisions are made about manoeuvres in traffic
situations (e.g. I can safely overtake that car in front of me). The operational level
deals with the implementation of driving manoeuvres (braking, steering,
accelerating). On all these levels errors and violations can be made.
In the final phase of the project, fifty work zones were observed to gain more insight
into factors regarding the organization of work zones that affect traffic safety. This
included visits to 36 work zones on municipal and provincial roads and analysis of
video material of 14 work zones on trunk roads. It was investigated to what extent
work zones meet the guidelines for safe work zones and whether there are
organizational factors that may cause dangerous situations. Different types of work
zones were selected on the basis of the results of the first and second part of the
research. The locations were assessed using two checklists, one for the extent to
which the guidelines were met and one to assess whether the location was
potentially unsafe. A situation was assessed as being potentially unsafe when (1) the
roadworks caused an increase in the number of potential conflicts, (2) the situation
was expected to cause an increase in errors or violations which result in an increase
in risk, or (3) insufficient or inappropriate safety measures were applied. Whether the
situation was expected to result in an increase in errors or violations, was determined
by which changes in road user behaviour were made necessary by the roadworks,
and whether these changes were reasonable and feasible (whether road users were
given sufficient warning for the changed situation, whether it was clear what was
expected from them and whether their driving task was not too strenuous).
The safety assessment of the locations that were visited was made by two reviewers.
These reviewers did not actually visit the locations, but analysed photo material and
information that was provided by the person that visited the location. All locations
were assessed by the same two reviewers who are both traffic safety experts, one
with an engineering background, and the other with a psychological background.
They first assessed the work zone independently, then discussed the results, and
finally came to a unanimous judgement. For the other locations, video material was
analyzed by two reviewers simultaneously and together they discussed (1) whether a
work zone was expected to lead to errors and violations and (2) whether enough and
appropriate safety measures were applied. These locations were not assessed for
potential lack of safety.
The results from the individual parts of the research project are reported in more
detail in Van Gent (2007), Janssen en Weijermars (forthcoming) and Weijermars
(forthcoming) (all in Dutch with English summaries).
2.

CRASHES AT ROADWORKS ZONES

The literature study and the study on recent crashes make it possible to draw
conclusions about the number of crashes, the crash characteristics, and the causes
of roadwork crashes (in comparison with crashes under normal circumstances).

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2.1 Number of crashes


Every year, approximately 190 KSI (killed and seriously injured) crashes at
roadworks are registered in the Netherlands. Approximately 20 of the crashes are
fatal (see Figure 1). Crashes at roadworks account for approximately 2% of all KSI
crashes. This share has increased over the last 20 years; the total number of KSI
crashes has decreased, whereas the number of KSI crashes at roadworks has
remained quite stable.
Because of the limited registration of roadworks, we were unable to determine the
effect of roadworks on the risk of a crash. Therefore, we could not determine the
exposure to roadworks, which could for example be defined as the number of
kilometres driven at roadworks situations. Nor did the studied literature provide a
clear conclusion on the effect of roadworks on the risk of a crash, although the risk
appears to increase due to roadworks. In the European project ARROWS a literature
study was carried out from which it was concluded that roadworks have a negative
effect on traffic safety (ARROWS, 1999). Two more recent U.S. studies (Ullman et
al., 2006; Khattak et al. (2002)) also found an increase in the number of crashes due
to road works. An extensive British study (Freeman et al., 2004), on the other hand,
did not find a significant difference in the number of crashes when roadworks were
carried out.
250
casualties

Number of serious accidents

in-patients
200

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50

19
87
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Year

Figure 1: Number of KSI crashes at road works in the Netherlands


2.2 Crash characteristics
We analyzed whether the characteristics of roadworks crashes differed from the
general crash characteristics. The distribution of the crashes over rural and urban
roads is not different for roadworks crashes; just over half of the roadworks crashes
in the Netherlands occur on rural roads. This is a similar share as that for all KSI
crashes. Also the distribution of the crashes over intersections and road sections is
not different for roadworks crashes.

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On motorways relatively many crashes happen when roadworks are carried out. Of
all 193 KSI crashes that annually occur at roadworks, 54 occur on trunk roads (these
are mainly motorways). Moreover, the proportion of roadworks crashes in relation to
all KSI crashes is higher for trunk roads than for other roads (in 2005, 4.2% of all
crashes on trunk roads happened during roadworks in relation to 2% on average).
This does not necessarily mean that these roads have a larger increase in risk due to
roadworks. It may also be the case that more roadworks are carried out on these
roads.
The number of roadworks crashes is highest during the day: 132 out of 193 crashes
that occurred at roadworks in the period 1987-2006 happened in daylight. The
proportion of roadworks crashes, in relation to all KSI crashes, is about the same for
day and night. This does not necessarily mean that the risk of a crash is the same for
day and night. The exposure to roadworks is probably larger during the day. This
would mean the risk is higher during the night. This is also found in other studies (e.g.
Dewar & Hanscom, 2001).
Heavy vehicles, including roadworks vehicles, are relatively often involved in crashes
at roadworks. A proportionally large number of crashes involving heavy vehicles
occur at roadworks. In 2005, 4.2% and 1.7% respectively of the crashes with and
without heavy vehicles being involved occurred at roadworks. This is also found in
other studies (e.g. Schrock et al, 2004; Daniel et al., 2000; Bai & Li, 2006).
Few crashes seem to involve roadworkers. In 5 of the 58 police reports that were
investigated roadworkers were involved in the crash and in just one of the crashes a
roadworker was seriously injured. Hagenzieker (1998) also found a low involvement
of road workers in roadworks crashes. However, although the number of casualties
among road workers is limited, they encounter more work hazards than for industrial
labourers (Swuste & Heijer, 1999; Venema et al., 2008).
Especially on rural roads, roadworks crashes are relatively often rear-end crashes.
Whilst 2.3% of all crashes on rural roads occur at roadworks, 4.6% of all rear-end
crashes on rural roads happen at roadworks. Other studies also found a high
proportion of rear-end crashes at roadworks (e.g. Daniel et al, 2000; Garber & Zhao,
2002). Further study of the police reports showed that rear-end crashes often happen
at the tail of a traffic queue. Also for crashes involving parked vehicles and objects
the proportion of roadworks crashes was found to be relatively high. The vehicles
probably are work vehicles and the objects are likely to be road blocks. This was also
found by Hagenzieker (1998). On urban roads, the distribution over various crash
types for roadworks was not different from that for the 'normal situation'.
2.3 Causes of roadworks crashes
The analysis of the police reports showed that not all roadworks crashes are directly
related to roadworks. From the 58 crashes police reports that were investigated, 20
would most probably also have occurred if there had been no roadworks. The other
crashes could have been prevented by changes in driving behaviour on the:
strategic level (9 out of 38 crashes)
tactical level (19 out of 38 crashes)
operational level (4 out of 38 crashes)

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In the remaining 6 crashes, the driver was impaired by alcohol. These crashes are
not assigned to any of the other three groups, as the driver was unable to drive
adequately.
The crashes that could have been prevented by changes in driving behaviour at the
strategic level mainly concern situations in which road users (especially cyclists)
enter a closed-off road and then collide with work traffic, fall, or ride into a ditch. Lack
of clarity about the diversion and the inadequate cordoning off of the work area seem
to contribute to these crashes occurring.
The crashes that could have been prevented by changes in driving behaviour at the
operational level include situations in which a motorcyclist or a cyclist loses control of
his vehicle because of loose chippings or obstacles on the road.
The crashes that could have been prevented by changes in driving behaviour at the
tactical level mainly concern priority crashes on urban roads and rear-end crashes on
motorways. Two factors that play a role with respect to these rear-end crashes are
lane changing behaviour and speeding. On rural roads, speeding often plays a role in
the occurrence of a crash (in 14 out of 34 analysed charges). Also in other studies
speeding is found to be an important cause of a crash (Bai and Li, 2006; Tsyganov et
al, 2005). Moreover, a literature study of road user behaviour in the vicinity of
roadworks showed that speeding is common at roadworks (ARROWS, 1999). The
majority of drivers drive too fast when approaching roadworks. Drivers often do not
reduce their speed until the traffic situation immediately in front of them urges them to
do so (just before an abrupt change of circumstances) and consequently brake too
hard. Although 'fast' drivers, those with a high initial speed, have a larger speed
reduction than 'slow' drivers, their end speed still is higher. In addition, changing
lanes is left rather late when a lane is closed off (Schuurman, 1991).
3.

SAFETY AT WORK ZONES

On the basis of observations at 50 work zone locations insight was obtained into the
extent to which guidelines for safe work zones are met and into organizational factors
that may cause dangerous situations. The results from this analysis are discussed in
this section. First, however, information will be provided about the Dutch guidelines
for safety at work zones.
3.1 Guidelines
CROW, the Technology Platform for Infrastructure, Traffic, Transport and Public
Space in the Netherlands, has drawn up the Dutch guidelines for the uniform
preparation, signalling and cordoning off of roadworks (CROW, 2005). These
guidelines are the result of a discussion process to which different experts (road
authorities, road construction companies) made their contribution. The guidelines
have to main targets: 1) to make sure roadworks do not result in dangerous situations
for road users and 2) to guarantee the safety of the roadworkers. The guidelines
state that the work area must be clearly indicated and that the traffic must be guided
clearly and transparently so that the road user is warned in time and knows what he
is expected to do.

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The specific measures that are required depend on the type, location, and duration of
the roadworks and the type of roads. Guidelines are available for roadworks on
intersections and roundabouts, on carriageways, on motorways, on foot- and bicycle
paths, and on locations next to the carriageways, for diversions, and with
specifications for material and equipment. Numerous situations are shown in
schematic figures that include guidelines with respect to signs, distances, speed
limits and additional measures. Figure 2 shows an example of such a schematic
figure. Furthermore there is a more general publication in which the responsibilities,
tasks, obligations, abilities and liabilities of all parties involved in the construction
process are being accounted for.
The CROW guidelines are not compulsory; deviations are allowed, but must be
motivated. Moreover, in case of a lawsuit as a result of a roadwork crash, a judge will
most likely consider whether the guidelines have been conducted. The road authority
contracts a construction company to carry out roadworks according to the appropriate
guidelines. Either the road authority or the construction company specifies how the
work zone is organized and which measures are taken. Construction companies
themselves mainly inspect the work zone during roadworks, although the road
authority, or some other party like the labour inspectorate can inspect them as well.
3.2 Application of guidelines
Only a few of the observed locations fully comply with all aspects of the guidelines.
Most of the locations show at least minor deviations from the guidelines. Most
common deviations include:
deviations regarding signposting;
deviations regarding the road closure and cordoning off of roadworks;
deviations regarding the temporary road marking.
The most common deviation with regard to signposting is the absence of a traffic sign
that warns for roadworks being ahead. Furthermore, on some locations other signs
are missing and signs are not always clearly visible and legible. The deviations with
regard to road closure and guarding mainly concern inadequate closure of the road
or bicycle path on urban roads and barriers that are placed incorrectly or do not have
retroreflecting pads. Deviations with respect to temporary road marking mainly occur
on motorways. The temporary road marking is often not clearly visible or it is
incomplete, and sometimes different markings are used together which makes it
unclear for road users which marking they should follow. Other deviations from the
guidelines that were observed include inappropriate speed limits, absence,
incompleteness or unclearness of alternative route guidance, obstacle free zone or
safety zone which is absent or too small, and insufficient or inappropriate measures
for bicycle traffic.

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Figure 2: Example of a schematic figure from the CROW-guidelines. This figure


shows what measures should be taken in case of a lane closure on a motorway.
3.3 Safety
Deviations from the guidelines do not always result in potentially dangerous
situations. Therefore we also assessed whether the work zones create potentially
unsafe situations. As explained in Section 2, we determined (1) whether there are
more conflicts due to the roadworks, (2) whether the roadworks result in an increase
of errors and/or violations, and (3) whether sufficient and appropriate safety
measures are applied. Combination of the results for individual locations makes clear
which aspects need more attention. The main aspects that were observed at several
locations are discussed below.
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First of all, at some work-zones, mainly on urban roads, cyclists are induced to and at
some locations are also observed to show unsafe behaviour. They cycle through the
work zone with moving work traffic, on the carriageway or on the footpath.
Organizational factors that play a role in dangerous behaviour by cyclists in and
around work zones include:
inappropriate road closure;
use of the sign 'step off the bike' (the use of this sign is only allowed in special
conditions and cyclists are not likely to obey this command;
lack of clarity regarding the behaviour that is expected from cyclist.
Second, at some work-zones cyclists have to cross the street due to roadworks.
These crossings lead to potential conflicts that cause the roadworks to be judged as
being potentially unsafe. To limit the extra unsafety which is caused by crossing
cyclists as much as possible, it is important to warn motorized vehicles for cyclists
crossing and to make sure the drivers' view is not blocked.
Third, some of the work zones on motorways are indicated by unclear or confusing
temporary markings. This may cause road users to make errors. On two locations,
the road users appeared to be confused as they followed the wrong road marking for
a short while. Other observed organizational factors that may cause confusion for
road users are unclear or confusing signs, fencing that may be illogical for road users
and roads that were not closed off properly. With regard to inappropriate road
closures it was not always clear from which point the road was really closed.
Fourth, at some work zones drivers are not at all or insufficiently warned for the
measures that are taken with regard to roadworks (e.g. lane closure, closure of a
branch of an intersection, exit for work traffic, crossing cyclists). Poorly visible or
legible signs can also be included in this group.
Fifth, other factors that were observed and that may cause road users to make errors
are lane closures just after large intersections (too heavy workload), too many signs
close to each other (too heavy workload) and speed limits that are too high or too low
(and therefore unreliable).
Finally, mainly at motorway locations several safety measures were observed that
were insufficient or inappropriate. These were:
absent, inappropriate or unsafely placed barriers;
signal vehicles that do not show a white and red edge markings and are therefore
not clearly visible, especially at night;
road workers or material within the safety zone or obstacle free zones;
the absence of Andreasstrips in front of roadblocks that are used to close a lane.
4.

DISCUSSION

In this section some limitations of the research will be discussed. First of all, we
would have liked to compare the risk of a crash at roadworks with the risk of a crash
under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, the limited registration of roadworks
made this impossible. To determine the effects of roadworks on traffic safety,
roadworks should be registered or a different research methodology should be used.
For locations at which roadworks are carried out, the number of crashes and the
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crash rate could be compared for situations with and situations without roadworks,
and a control group could be used to correct for other developments. However, since
the expected difference in risk is small and the duration of roadworks is usually brief
(in before and after studies that are used to determine the effect of measures, before
and after periods of a couple of years are used, roadworks generally take only a
couple of weeks at the most), the sample should be very large in such a study.
Second, the sample of 58 police reports gives an indication of characteristics and
causes of crashes at roadworks, but since the fatal crashes were overrepresented,
the sample is not representative for all roadworks crashes. Therefore, it cannot be
used for an exact determination of the distribution of all roadworks crashes over
different causes or other characteristics. However, it can be used to obtain more
insight into causes of crashes at roadworks.
Third, there are so many different types of work zones and many factors (e.g. type
and location of roadworks, responsible road authority) that possibly influence the
extent to which the guidelines are followed and the safety of the work zone, that a
sample of 50 is not enough for an exact estimation of the proportion of work zones
that do not meet the guidelines or that are potentially unsafe. Moreover, it appeared
to be difficult to assess a situation on the basis of only photo material and information
about the work zone. Furthermore, the instruction to the reviewers and possibly also
the checklists need to be improved. In case the research is intended to result in hard
conclusions regarding the level of safety at Dutch work zones, the sample should be
larger and more representative, the checklists should be evaluated more thoroughly,
and the reviewers should be thoroughly instructed and be provided with film material
that shows the work zone from different perspectives. However, the methodology and
sample used in this study are appropriate to give an idea of the extent to which the
guidelines are applied and to obtain insight into deviations of the guidelines and other
factors that may cause an increase in risk at work-zones.
5.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Every year, about 190 KSI crashes occur at roadworks. This accounts for about 2%
of all KSI crashes. The proportion of roadworks crashes is relatively high for trunk
roads and heavy vehicles are relatively often involved in roadworks crashes.
Especially on rural roads, roadworks crashes are relatively often rear-end crashes,
crashes with parked vehicles and crashes with objects.
Not all crashes that take place at roadworks are directly related to the roadworks.
The crashes that are related to roadworks are mainly priority crashes at urban roads,
rear-end crashes on motorways (often at the tail of a queue) that are related to
speeding and inappropriate lane changing behaviour, and crashes where a road user
(especially cyclists) enters a closed off road. Regarding this latter type of crash, the
assessment of work zones showed that at some locations cyclists (are induced to)
show unsafe behaviour, behaviour that is partly evoked by the circumstances.
Organizational factors that play a role with respect to this unsafe behaviour are
inappropriate road closure, use of the sign 'step off the bike', and lack of clarity
regarding the desired behaviour.

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The majority of the work zones do not comply with all aspects of the CROW
guidelines. The most common departures from the guidelines are deviations
regarding signposting, deviations regarding closing off the road, deviations regarding
fencing off of roadworks, and deviations regarding temporary road markings. These
deviations are expected to have a negative effect on traffic safety at roadworks.
Other factors that are expected to increase the risk due to roadworks are extra
crossings for cyclists (this increases the number of potential conflicts) and lane
closures just after intersections (too heavy workload).
To improve traffic safety at work zones in the Netherlands, measures are
recommended to stimulate and improve the application of the CROW guidelines for
safe roadworks. To be able to do this effectively, it should be investigated why the
guidelines are not applied correctly. Possible measures include informing and
educating road workers and other involved parties, and increasing the enforcement
of the application of the guidelines. Also, it is recommended to pay more attention to
cyclists. To prevent unsafe behaviour as much as possible, cyclists should be guided
past work zones as much as possible. If this is not possible, the road should be
closed off properly and the alternative route should be as short as possible and
clearly marked. Furthermore, it is recommended to prevent lane closures just after
large intersections. Finally, to limit the increased risk caused by crossing cyclists, it is
recommended to warn cars for crossing cyclists due to roadworks and to make sure
their view is unobstructed at the location of the crossing.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The research that is discussed in this paper was supported by the CROW working
group 'Ongevallen bij Werk in Uitvoering' ('Crashes at roadworks locations'). The
authors would like to thank the members of this working group for their input and
comments on the research. Furthermore, we thank Willem Vlakveld for carrying out
the behavioural analysis of the police reports and for assessing the work zones.
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