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Journal Article


Zhang Z, Akinci B, Qian S. Accid. Anal. Prev. 2023; 183: e106966.


(Copyright © 2023, Elsevier Publishing)






Transportation agencies post and enforce reduced speed limits in work zones to ensure work zone safety, since traffic speed is found to be associated with work zone crash risks. However, prior findings on the relationship between speed and crash rate in work zones are inconsistent. This may be attributed to the methods of statistical associations between traffic speed and crash risks that do not necessarily discover true causal relations. In fact, work zone presence could lead to the reduction of actual traffic speed that influences crash risks, where it may also directly impose effects on crash risks as a result of work zone configurations. The actual traffic speed (not posted speed limit) is also known as a "mediator" where work zones can indirectly impact the crash risks. It is challenging to rigorously separate the causal effect of traffic speed on work zone crash risk from that directly caused by work zones. The underlying causal relation could help to determine what reduced post speed limit (with enforcement) is necessary to ensure work zone safety under the most desired "actual traffic speed". This study proposes to use the sequential g-estimation and the regression discontinuity design to estimate the controlled direct effect of traffic speed on work zone crashes. Two research gaps are identified and filled: inaccurate inferences of the effect of reduced speed limit in work zones as a result of ignoring (1) potential post-treatment bias since traffic speed is a mediator; and (2) potential confounding bias caused by unobservable roadway characteristics. The proposed methodology was applied to 4008 work zones in Pennsylvania from 2015 to 2017, and the results were validated through a series of robustness tests. The results indicate that the direct causal effect of the presence of work zones on crash risk is significantly positive when the traffic speed is relatively low (i.e., lower than 55 mph in this case study), while traffic speed has a positive causal effect on crash occurrences when the actual traffic speed is high (i.e., greater or equal to 55 mph). It suggests that strictly enforcing reduced posted speed limits in work zones is particularly effective when the actual traffic speed is greater than 55 mph. This is particularly true on roadways with high traffic volume (i.e., AADT > 20,000 vehicles per day), long, and daytime work zones (i.e., > 3000 m). On the other hand, the effect of enforcing reduced speed on work zone safety is unclear when the actual speed is already low. In this case, improving work zone configurations and driving behaviors may be more effective in reducing crash risks.

Language: en


Work zone safety; Causal inference; Controlled direct effect; Mediator; Sequential g-estimation


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