Safety ratings for roads

We need to create a genuinely safe system approach, in which improving the safety of drivers, vehicles and roads is of mutual importance. A safe system where we have five star drivers, in five star cars on five star roads should involve no deaths.

AusRAP is the Australian Road Assessment Program and aspires to help Australia become a nation free of high risk roads. 

AusRAP is a simple and easy to understand measure of how safe a road is and provides independent assessments of the safety of our highways.

The program informs the public about the safety of our roads, gives road engineers vital information to show them how well, or badly, their roads are performing compared with others and provides information to politicians about how much funding is needed for the safety improvements identified.

Safer roads save lives

Across Australia around 1,400 people are killed each year and more than 32,500 are hospitalised. This averages four deaths and nearly 90 serious injuries on Australian roads each day which costs our community $74 million a day.

Most crashes occur when ordinary people make everyday human mistakes. Sober, drug-free, responsible drivers obeying the speed  limit and wearing seat belts frequently die on our roads. Safer roads minimise the chances of these crashes happening, and if they do occur, they minimise the severity of the crash.

We need to create a genuinely safe system approach, in which improving the safety of drivers, vehicles and roads is of mutual importance. A safe system where we have five star drivers, in five star cars on five star roads should involve no deaths.

Engineering measures to improve road safety don’t have to be high cost and best of all, they last decades!

About AUSRAP

AusRAP is run by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) and State and Territory motoring clubs. AusRAP is part of the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP), a worldwide movement to improve the safety of roads and a proud supporter of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, a global plan to reduce the number of road deaths worldwide.

AusRAP has two measures:

  • risk maps measure the real-life performance of a road network because it is based on crashes which have actually occurred. 
  • star ratings measure the inherent safety of a road’s infrastructure – that is, the degree to which built-in safety features prevent crashes from occurring and reduce the severity of those crashes which do occur. Each road is assigned a rating out of five stars, which tells us how safe the road is. Safer road investment plans can then be developed, which identify and cost appropriate road safety improvements to show how the road can be made safer.

Risk mapping crashes

AusRAP Risk Maps highlight those sections of road that are riskier than others based on casualty crashes that have been recorded and traffic flow. This provides a measure of the safety performance of a road.  Risk Maps have been produced for the National Highway Network, on which road crash fatalities typically account for around 15 per cent of annual road fatalities in Australia.

Latest results

In 2016, RACV and the Australian Automobile Association, assessed 1,634km of major highways in Victoria with a speed limit of 90km/h and above by looking at the crashes that occurred from 2010-2014 (the latest available data nationally).  Those crashes were the result of factors related to driver behaviour, the vehicle and/or the safety of the road. Each highway section was assigned a risk rating from low to high.

The results found that sections of the Calder and Goulburn Valley Highways have crash problems and may need funding for safety upgrades. The study also found that the recently upgraded Nagambie Bypass on the Goulburn Valley Highway is the safest section of the national network in Australia.

Before the Nagambie Bypass was built it was a notorious stretch of road. This 17 km freeway bypass has taken truck and through-traffic off Nagambie’s main road. The risk assessment result for the Nagambie Bypass tells us that road improvements like bypasses dramatically increase safety.  

However there are many rural Victorian roads needed urgent attention. Our analysis identified the five worst sections of highway in Victoria, which accounted for less than nine per cent of the kilometres reviewed, but recorded nearly 25 per cent of the crashes and 15 per cent of deaths. The riskiest five sections are:

  • Princes Freeway from Western Ring Road to Hoppers Crossing 
  • Goulburn Valley Highway from Numurkah to NSW border
  • Western Freeway from Western Ring Road to Melton (Deer Park Bypass)
  • Princes Freeway from Nar Nar Goon to Warragul
  • Nar Nar Goon to Warragul from Ballarat (Sunraysia Hwy) to Beaufort.

Previous assessments of the standard of infrastructure (see the Star Ratings section below) found that the Calder Highway north of Bendigo was mostly a 1 and 2-star road.  Similarly the Goulburn Valley Highway around Strathmerton was a 2-star road. This new crash assessment has found that the same sections of road have poor crash records.

Some of the best sections identified are those that have received Federal and State funding for safety improvements and duplications in recent years. Investing in safer country highways not only saves lives and serious injuries through improved safety, but it also saves the community through reductions in medical and ongoing care costs as a result of serious injuries sustained in road crashes. Substantial upgrades to the road network have also been completed since the rating period of 2010-2014 and the benefits of these investments are expected to show in future assessments. 

For example, a $1 billion, ten year program to improve the safety of Victoria’s roads is underway, including crash barriers and other low-cost road improvements and some of this program has since been spent on roads assessed as part of this RACV/AAA study.  

Another recent example is a $36 million investment on the Princes Highway East through the TAC Safer Road Infrastructure Program to deliver a range of road safety improvement projects. Treatments included traditional road safety treatments (e.g. roadside barriers, shoulder sealing and rumble strips) and innovative ones (coloured guide posts). Preliminary post-completion analysis of the improvements made to two road sections under that investment costing just under $20 million indicates the following improvements:

  • actual reduction in serious injuries of 44% (with the AusRAP model predicting 42%)
  • an estimated 56 serious casualties saved per year for each AUD$100m invested
  • elimination of all AusRAP 1- and 2-star (least safe) sections and a 36% increase in road length at 4-star or better (safest). 

These examples highlight the returns in investing in Victoria’s country highways. With 2016 being a bad year on our roads, RACV expects a stronger commitment in the 2017 State and Federal Budgets towards making Victoria’s country highways substantially safer.  RACV will shortly commence reassessing the star ratings of Victoria’s country highway network.

For more information on the risk assessment, including an interactive map that lets you see the results of highways in your area, visit the AAA risk mapping website.

Read past reports

Note: due to changes in the methodology, the 2016 results are not directly comparable with past results.

Star ratings for roads

AusRAP Star Ratings enable us to identify unsafe roads before a crash occurs and work out what to do to make them safer.

Star Ratings measure the inherent safety of a road’s infrastructure – that is, the degree to which built-in safety features prevent crashes from occurring and reduce the severity of those crashes which do occur. Each road is assigned a rating out of five stars, which tells us how safe the road is.

How star ratings work

Star Ratings show the inherent safety of the road infrastructure. Over 70 design elements are inspected such as lane width, shoulder width and the presence of safety barriers, because they are known to have an impact on the likelihood of a crash and its severity.   Between 1 and 5-stars are awarded to sections of roads, measuring the level of safety which is ‘built-in’ to the road, with  1-star being the least safe and 5-stars the safest as shown in the image.

The photos below show example star ratings in Victoria. This clearly shows that a 4 or 5-star rating is not unattainable. In fact Victoria has the longest length of highway rated as 5-star in Australia.

RACV's Dave Jones, Manager Roads and Traffic, explains some of the differences between roads with different star ratings in the video below. 

Improving the safety of our roads

RACV has called on the State and Federal Governments to make a commitment to upgrade  1 and 2-star sections of rural highway to a 3-star minimum AusRAP standard commencing with the Calder Hwy north of Bendigo, the Western Hwy west of Stawell, the Princes Hwy West west of Colac and the Princes Hwy East east of Sale. 

Newly constructed sections of highway should achieve a safety rating of no less than 4-stars.

RACV also calls on the State and Federal Governments to commit to funding the completion of duplications to at least a 4-star AusRAP standard commencing with  the Western Highway from Ballarat to Stawell, including a bypass of Beaufort, the Princes Hwy West from Geelong to Colac, the Princes Hwy East from Traralgon to Sale, and construction of the Shepparton Bypass.

Safe Road Investment Plans (SRIP)

Once the Star Rating is assessed, AusRAP can develop Safer Roads Investment Plans (SRIPs) for Australia’s national highways. These plans draw on more than 50 countermeasures to generate costed road upgrade proposals which can prevent tens of thousands of fatalities and serious injuries over a 20-year period. The plans use estimates of reductions in fatalities and serious injuries to quantify safety benefits.

Only countermeasures with a benefit cost ratio (BCR) greater than one are considered by the SRIP, indicating a positive economic return on investing in road improvements. Implementing these plans would reduce the proportion of 1 and 2-star sections of national highway and prevent casualties on Australian roads each year.

For more information on Safer Road Investment Plans download the 2013 Star Ratings report

Latest star rating results

In 2014, of the 2,885 kilometres of Victoria’s national highway network classified from one star (least safe) to five stars (most safe), just two per cent of the Victorian rural highway network achieved the maximum five star rating, with 24 per cent rated at less than three stars.

The RACV policy is that all existing sections of the National Highway Network should be upgraded to achieve a minimum AusRAP safety rating of three stars. Newly constructed sections of highway should achieve a safety rating of no less than four stars.

Safer Road Investment Plan (SRIP)

RACV proposes that an investment of approximately $580 million would achieve the minimum three star standard on Victoria’s major highways saving at least 2,800 people from serious injury or death on these roads over the next 20 years.

Simple measures such as safety barriers along the roadside and in the median to prevent run-off-road and head-on crashes, improved skid resistance of road surfaces and rumble strips on highway shoulders and centrelines to reduce run-off-road crashes can save lives and reduce injuries from crashes on our roads.

The results are shown below. For more information see pages 16 and 17 of the Regional Growing Pains Report.