Road blocks with construction cones

Should Transportation Projects Take a Back Seat for Engineering Companies?

Paula Dixon
Paula Dixon
Senior Vice President, Property Casualty

In a recent conversation I had with a leading engineering firm, I learned they were hesitant to continue their work in the transportation engineering space. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. This firm has dominated the transportation space for over 75 years. But, in talking with them more, they shared with me that distracted driving, speeding, and litigation trends were motivating them to redirect their project selection choices away from transportation projects.

Diving into the Data

This is a substantial change from how I have viewed road work for the last 30 years in the industry. In fact, AXA XL’s recent claims data research for design lists roads as the No. 3 of project types with highest average loss (cost) per claim. Roads are now a tie with residential projects of frequency for engineers. Going further, 45 percent of claims against engineers are by a party/entity other than the owner/client.

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, traffic deaths have risen ever since pandemic lockdowns eased in 2020 and people began returning to work and making more road trips. Reports site that fewer traffic citations by law enforcement and fewer motorists on the roads increased speeding behaviors. Before 2020, the number of fatalities had fallen for three consecutive years.

Data sliced thinner shows that:

  • Speeding was involved in 31 percent of the fatal crashes that occurred in construction/maintenance zones.
  • More fatalities occurred in urban areas (54 percent) versus rural areas (45 percent).
  • Fatalities in the rural areas are more likely during daylight (6 a.m. to 5:59 p.m.). Urban fatalities are more likely to happen when the light conditions were dark (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.).
  • 80 percent of rural crashes and 84 percent urban crashes happened when weather conditions were clear. Rain, snow, and sleet accounted for 16 percent or less of traffic fatalities.
  • Fatalities that stemmed from roadway departures (crossing center line) happened 59 percent of the time in rural areas and 40 percent of the time in urban areas.
  • Intersection crashes happened 29 percent of the time in rural areas versus 70 percent in urban.

Steps to Move Forward

So, what can be done?

First and from a national level, the U.S. Department of Transportation has blamed the increase in traffic fatalities on speeding, impaired driving, and other reckless behavior, and it has pledged to fund investments in speed enforcement and to build safer roads.

From an engineering business standpoint, it’s important to remember that 3rd party bodily injury claims against design firms continue to rise without similar sovereign immunity as a government body. So, it’s important to seek project selection using crash/data activity from state to state as a consideration.

And, if you aren’t sure whether a project would do more harm than good for your firm, please talk with us. Our Architects and Engineers team works day in and day out on helping companies evaluate risk. We’d be happy to discuss the best course of action for you!

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