A Holistic Approach to Roadway Safety
More than 32,000 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2011. Because these crashes are often the result of multiple contributing factors, the solutions to saving lives must involve a comprehensive, collaborative effort spread across the four "E's" -- engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency response.
The current surface transportation legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), embraces this approach. It requires coordination among Federal safety programs on enhanced strategic highway safety plans and new requirements for performance management. Strategic highway safety plans establish a common vision for safety within a State and serve as a guide for decisions about investments in roadway safety. Therefore, States should develop the plans in collaboration with all safety partners, taking into consideration available data, knowledge, and resources during the decisionmaking process and then expending resources in the areas that are most likely to achieve the desired results.
Strategic objectives and emphasis areas are actualized in States' highway safety plans, commercial vehicle safety plans, and transportation improvement plans, and in metropolitan planning organizations' transportation improvement plans. Three performance measures -- number of fatalities, fatality rate, and number of serious injuries -- common to the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Highway Safety Improvement Program and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) highway safety program further reinforce the linked efforts. State agencies need to coordinate their programmatic efforts and identify, prioritize, and implement life-saving strategies that enable them to set and meet common targets for safety performance.
Applying a holistic approach to improving safety at the programmatic level involves use of more comprehensive methods for developing safety solutions. Road safety audits are one example of a broader based, multidisciplinary tool available for States to use to diagnose and solve safety problems. Another is the systemic approach to planning safety improvements. The systemic approach represents an expansion in thinking beyond the traditional site analysis approach, which focuses only on making improvements at high-crash locations. By contrast, the systemic approach looks to apply safety improvements at sites across a transportation network with the greatest potential for crashes associated with high-risk roadway features. For more on the systemic approach and how some States are incorporating it into their planning processes, see "Using Risk to Drive Safety Investments" on page 16 in this issue of Public Roads.
NHTSA's Countermeasures That Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Safety Offices and FHWA's Crash Modification Factors Clearinghouse can help safety professionals identify the most effective strategies and countermeasures. Both resources underscore the effectiveness of using a variety of strategies to improve highway safety, including FHWA's proven safety countermeasures and safety-related Every Day Counts initiatives. When prioritizing projects for implementation, agencies should consider which projects will maximize opportunities to advance safety. Additional information is available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21 and http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov.
Overall, a holistic approach affords the greatest opportunity to advance safety by ensuring support for the strategies most likely to reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries.
Associate Administrator Office of Safety
Federal Highway Administration