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Public Roads - November/December 2016

November/December 2016
Issue No:
Vol. 80 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

Building Safety Into the Infrastructure

edi_1Twenty years ago, the Federal Highway Administration embarked on the initial effort to push for a U.S. Department of Transportation policy on reducing total fatalities. The agency decided it would not be satisfied with reductions in fatality rates. At the time, FHWA used the analogy that daily highway deaths equated to a Boeing 737 crashing each day! From that early shock statement, FHWA made real progress in drawing attention to the need to improve highway safety. During the last 18 months, however, safety improvements seemed to have stalled.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 18,000 lives could be saved each year if the rate of U.S. crash deaths equaled the average rate of highway deaths in 19 other high-income countries. This arresting figure underscores the urgency of developing safety solutions that leverage improvements in the infrastructure and reinforce improved human behavior.

The recent increase in the number of road fatalities is certainly a reminder that there is more work to do. For example, pedestrians accounted for 11 percent of total fatalities in 2005. In 2014, that proportion increased to 15 percent.

Fortunately, the design of transportation systems has evolved from the principle of moving cars on highways to considering how people actually interact with the roadway. For example, improvements to existing roadway features have enhanced both pedestrian and bicyclist safety by making these vulnerable road users more visible to approaching motorists or by physically separating them from vehicle traffic. Similarly, diverging diamond interchanges and restricted crossing U-turns are among low-cost, alternative designs that eliminate the most severe types of intersection crashes by reducing the number of conflict points between vehicles and other users.

A number of tools are available that add greater rigor to the process of selecting and implementing safety countermeasures. For example, using the Highway Safety Manual can transform roadway and roadside designs based on precise consideration of their safety consequences. Also, FHWA has developed the Interactive Highway Safety Design Model, a suite of six software modules used to evaluate the safety and operational effects of geometric design decisions.

Research and partnering efforts with States, especially through the Evaluations of Low-Cost Safety Improvements Pooled Fund Study, continue to explore how to implement safety improvements that reduce fatalities and injuries among all roadway users. Tools that improve driver awareness of pedestrians appear to be promising, as do technologies like the pedestrian hybrid beacon and the rectangular rapid-flash beacon. Both draw attention to the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists far enough upstream so that motorists are more conscious of what they are about to encounter. In addition, FHWA’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center is researching connected vehicle technologies that monitor the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists, and the Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment and Smart City programs feature these technologies.

In sum, FHWA program and research managers are proactive in elevating the state of the practice that will lead Toward Zero Deaths! The combined efforts in research, program delivery, technology transfer, technical assistance, and the integration of safety performance into all decisions about highway investments will yield dividends that benefit all transportation users. We at FHWA encourage you to seek out and use the tools that are there for your use.

And by all means, buckle up, don’t drive distracted, and remain safe.

Michael F. Trentacoste
Associate Administrator
Office of Research, Development, and Technology
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center
Federal Highway Administration