Multi-country highway design standards (3)

The acceptance of the design standards for the Trans-African Highways in 2013 means that there now appear to be at least 8 different multi-country highway design standards, applicable in various parts of the world. Not all apply to all four basic classes of road (regional, urban, rural, special). The following is a list of the multi-country design standards I am aware of so far….

  1. Europe
  • Title: European agreement on main international traffic arteries; 2008
  • Publisher: UNECE
  • Language: English
  • Notes: covers regional roads (“main international traffic arteries”)
  1. Central America
  • Manual Centroamericano de Normas para el Diseño Geométrico de Carreteras, 3ª. Edición, 2011 (~Central American manual on geometric road design standards)
  • SICA
  • Spanish
  • Covers regional, urban and rural roads
  1. Southeast Asia
  • Asean highway standards; 1999 (?)
  • English
  • Covers regional, urban and rural roads
  1. Africa
  • Trans-African Highways, document, Annex II Basic Guidelines for Road classification  standards; 2013
  • African Union
  • English
  • Covers regional and rural roads


  • Annex II, Asian highway classification and design standards; 2003
  • UN / ESCAP
  • English
  • Covers regional and rural roads
  1. Southern Africa
  • SADC / SATCC draft code of practice for the geometric design of trunk roads; 2001
  • English
  • Covers regional roads
  1. Southern Africa
  • ADC / SATCC Guideline on low volume sealed roads; 2003
  • English
  • Covers rural roads
  1. Australasia
  • Austroads guide to road design; 2010
  • Austroads
  • English
  • Covers regional and rural roads. Austroads “aims to be the Australasian leader in providing high quality information, advice and fostering research in the road sector”


Some of the standards are for long-distance routes. Most people make many short trips but few if any long-distance trips. It might be better to begin with guidance for local rural and urban roads.

The quality of the standards listed, varies. Some are “instant ” – very brief, short on detail, short on traceability / source references. Examples are the Asian highways standards and the European standards. Others represent complete, “paradigm” sets of detailed standards -the Austroads set of documents is an example here.

In theory, multi-country standards would present “best practice” values for geometric design. This should mean that different multi-country standards would produce the same recommendations on (for example) horizontal radius, maximum superelevation etc. In practice this is not the case. Does this mean that one standard gets it right, and all the other standards recommend “wrong” values?

Some countries are subject to several multi-country standards, as well as having their own standards. For example, Indonesia seems to be subject to ASEAN standards, Asian highway standards and to its own RNSI standards. Since the standards give different values for the same geometric parameters, having different applicable standards will likely not lead to consistent design.

Standards can be applied too rigidly. A recent case involved strict application of Asian highway standards for right-of-way, related to a road project in Nepal. Although a design standard may be developed by an international agency such as UNECE or UNESCAP, the decision  on how and whether to apply it should be a local decision.

I am not sure what the point is in developing new sets of – often – summary design standards for different regions. It would be a lot easier to adopt an existing set of detailed standards (perhaps the Austroads ones, or the German or Norwegian standards). On the other hand, isn’t there an argument that local circumstances in different countries mean that different road design details should be used?


About roadnotes

Robert Bartlett is an international consultant with over 30 years of professional experience as a highway and traffic engineer with leading companies and organisations in several countries, including Germany, China (Hong Kong), Qatar and the UK. Specialised in urban studies, transport and the use of GIS, research has included new ideas on subjects such as the study of social justice using GIS, the dimensions of vehicles, and comparative geometrics (highways and transport).
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