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Public Roads - November/December 2016

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

What Drives Highway Safety Improvements?

by Dana Gigliotti and Karen Scurry

FHWA is rolling out new requirements for performance-based decisionmaking. Take a look at how the HSIP has changed, including the addition of safety performance management requirements.

Full-scale crash tests like this one, performed by FHWA at the Turner- Fairbank Highway Research Center in August 2009, help in understanding the performance of safety features covered by HSIP.

In 2015, more than 35,000 people in the United States lost their lives in motor vehicle-related crashes. Every time a crash results in death or serious injuries, it affects countless families, friends, employers, and communities in ways that have lasting and far-reaching effects.

The Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) is a Federal High--way Administration program that funds State safety projects intended to reduce fatalities and serious injuries. States may use HSIP funds for infrastructure improvements that address safety concerns (for example, intersection design, pedestrian crossings, and retrofits to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions).

In 2012, FHWA embarked on a new and improved approach to managing HSIP. This core Federal-aid program now requires transportation performance management as a basis for improving highway safety. The new focus will enhance data-driven safety decisions, improve collaboration across a wide range of safety partners, provide transparency for the public, and, most important, save lives.

Legislation Outlines Changes to HSIP

Under HSIP, States receive in total approximately $2.3 billion annually to implement their programs of highway safety improvements. Congressional legislation establishes program requirements, and FHWA regulations further clarify and prescribe requirements. States then develop programs that best meet their needs.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which went into effect on October 1, 2012, continued HSIP as a core Federal-aid program and outlined some changes to the program. States are now required to regularly evaluate and update their strategic highway safety plans and post HSIP annual reports on FHWA’s Web site.

The legislation also requires FHWA to establish performance-based measures for States to use in assessing the number and rate of fatalities and serious injuries. The objective is for States to invest resources in projects that collectively will make progress toward the achievement of the national goals.

Final Rules

FHWA published final rules for HSIP and safety performance management (safety PM) measures in the Federal Register on March 15, 2016, with an effective date of April 14, 2016. The HSIP final rule updates the HSIP regulation under Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations (23 CFR), Part 924, to be consistent with MAP-21 and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, and clarifies existing program requirements. The safety PM final rule adds Part 490 to 23 CFR to implement the performance management requirements in Title 23 of the United States Code, Section 150, and establishes the safety performance measures.

The HSIP final rule contains three major policy changes related to the update cycle for strategic highway safety plans, the content and schedule of States’ HSIP reports, and the subset of the fundamental data elements of the Model Inventory of Roadway Elements.

The safety PM final rule establishes five safety performance measures to carry out HSIP. These measures are 5-year rolling averages for the following: (1) the number of fatalities, (2) the rate of fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled, (3) the number of serious injuries, (4) the rate of serious injuries per 100 vehicle-miles traveled, and (5)the number of nonmotorized fatalities and nonmotorized serious injuries. These safety performance measures are applicable to all public roads, regardless of ownership or functional classification.

The safety PM final rule also defines serious injuries, aligning the definition with the one given in the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria, 4th Edition (available at Having a standard definition for serious injuries--previously undefined by the Federal Government--will improve data quality and reporting across the Nation, resulting in improved countermeasures. The crash criteria define any nonfatal injury that results in one or more of the following injury types as serious: severe laceration resulting in exposure of underlying tissues, muscle, or organs, or resulting in significant loss of blood; a broken or distorted arm or leg; crush injuries; suspected skull, chest, or abdominal injury other than bruises or minor lacerations; significant burns (second or third degree burns) over 10 percent or more of the body; unconsciousness when taken from the crash scene; or paralysis.

Transportation Performance Management

This strategic approach required by HSIP uses system information to make investment and policy decisions to achieve national performance goals. It provides key information to help decisionmakers understand the consequences of investment decisions across transportation assets or modes; improves communications between decisionmakers, stakeholders, and the traveling public; and ensures targets and measures are developed in cooperative partnerships and based on objective data. For more information, visit the FHWA Transportation Performance Management Web site at

Report cover from the Montana Comprehensive Highway Safety Plan.The safety PM final rule institutes a process for State departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to establish and report their safety targets. States must set annual targets, which may include establishing separate targets for any urban area and a single nonurban target. (These separate targets will not factor in an assessment of the State’s safety performance.) Three of the targets must be identical to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration targets for the required performance measures of the number and rate of fatalities and the number of serious injuries.

In addition, the safety PM final rule institutes a process for FHWA to assess whether a State has met, or made significant progress toward meeting, its safety targets. FHWA determines that a State has made significant progress toward meeting its targets when at least four of the five required safety performance measure targets are either met or the actual outcome for the target is better than baseline performance. If a State has not met its targets or made significant progress in pursuing those targets, FHWA will require the State to use certain safety funds only for HSIP projects and submit an HSIP implementation plan to FHWA.

Together, the HSIP and safety PM final rules will improve data, foster transparency and accountability, and enable safety progress to be tracked at the national level. The final rules will inform State DOT and MPO planning, programming, and decisionmaking for the greatest possible reduction in fatalities and serious injuries.

For more information on the rules, go to or

Strategic Highway Safety Plans

Strategic Highway Safety Plans are required under HSIP. These plans document various strategies to achieve long-term safety goals developed collaboratively with safety stakeholders across the State. The strategic highway safety plan guides the performance management processes that States use to determine and prioritize highway safety improvement projects. The process provides an opportunity to establish long-term goals and objectives, to which the annual HSIP targets can align.

MAP-21 and the FAST Act require, and the HSIP final rule specifies, a safety plan update and evaluation cycle, implementation practices, and goals that are consistent with the five safety performance measures established by the safety PM final rule.

By using a data-driven, collaborative approach to achieve safety gains, strategic highway safety plans have transformed how States identify roadway safety needs and make investment decisions. Since these plans were first required by legislation in 2005, traffic fatalities have declined dramatically. Over the past 10 years, the number of fatalities on the Nation’s roadways has fallen nearly 25 percent.

Implementing The Final Rules

The HSIP final rule requires each State to update its strategic highway safety plan at least once every 5 years to identify and address any issues, and to confirm actions that the State will take to implement the plan’s strategies.

For example, the Montana Department of Transportation recently updated its plan in cooperation with numerous safety partners and under the oversight of multiagency leadership and advisory committees. Together, these partners agreed on an interim long-term safety goal and set annual safety targets in the State plan.

The Montana DOT aims to reduce fatalities and serious injuries by one half in a little over two decades, from 1,704 in 2007 to 852 by 2030.

“Our update was the perfect opportunity to focus on coordinating our statewide goals, targets, and strategies,” says Pam Langve-Davis, who is leading implementation of the State plan in Montana. “We are all striving to meet the vision of zero fatalities and zero serious injuries on Montana’s roads, and now we have a cohesive strategy to get there.”

Using Safety Data to Inform Decisions

Many States also are implementing the final rules by collecting data aligned with the Model Inventory of Roadway Elements to make performance-based safety decisions. MAP-21 requires FHWA to identify a subset of the more than 200 elements currently in the inventory that provide useful insight for roadway safety. FHWA identified 37 fundamental data elements and categorized them by functional class and roadway surface type for road segments, intersections, and interchanges. These data elements enable a jurisdiction to analyze crashes on their roadway network relative to the expected average crash frequency on roads with similar characteristics and traffic volumes. The inventory is available at

A variety of improved techniques for data analysis are now available to State and local agencies, such as those presented in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Highway Safety Manual. These techniques are intended to assist in safety decisionmaking, but they are useful only if States have good, basic safety data, such as crash, roadway characteristic, and traffic volume data, to support them.

Data-Driven Safety Analysis

FHWA has made data-driven safety analysis a focus of its Every Day Counts initiative, which encourages States to adopt applications of predictive and systemic analysis in their safety management and project development processes. Predictive analysis uses crash, roadway, and traffic volume data to reliably estimate the safety performance--crash frequency and severity--of an existing or proposed roadway. This method can help a State quantify the safety impacts of its transportation decisions. Systemic analysis screens a roadway network to identify high-risk features correlated with specific severe crash types. Once identified, agencies can target high-risk locations with appropriate countermeasures. Both predictive and systemic techniques rely upon good safety data.

For example, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) uses various Highway Safety Manual techniques, including AASHTOW are Safety Analyst, to assist with numerous aspects of its safety management program. Included are network screening, problem diagnosis, countermeasure selection, economic appraisal, project prioritization, and countermeasure evaluation.

Traditionally, State DOTs and other transportation agencies have prioritized HSIP funding on sites that historically have been high-crash locations. ODOT uses a method presented in the Highway Safety Manual that combines predictive model crash estimates with historical crash data to obtain a more reliable estimate of crash frequency. The excess expected average crash frequency method evaluates a network of facilities for sites likely to respond to safety improvements. Using this method, States can prioritize locations that are experiencing more crashes than their peer group. The methodology enables users to target investments where crashes can be reduced statistically and ultimately save lives.

               Mapping Past and Predicted Future Crash Sites   

Identifying problem road segments (shown in blue) based on calculating the expected crash frequency provides a similar result to past methodologies using crash rates and densities. But Ohio uses a method based on excess crash frequencies to identify road segments performing worse than their peers, which helps prioritize investments on segments (shown in orange) to reduce crashes long term.

“Ohio’s safety data system has enabled us to better understand the impacts of proposed projects,” says Derek Troyer, a safety engineer with ODOT. “Overall, this roadway safety management process is greatly assisting ODOT in implementing and managing its safety program.”

Resources for Implementation and Evaluation

Logo. Circle of three arrows with SHSP in the center and develop, implement, and evaluate arrows circling around, in that order.FHWA has published guidance and other resources to help its partners implement the HSIP and safety PM final rules at The agency also provides technical assistance and training across the country to support implementation.

To help States update their strategic highway safety plans, FHWA created an evaluation process model and offers training to help States put the model into action. The training demonstrates an organized approach to evaluation that will help States answer important questions about the effectiveness of their strategic plans.

“Many States have elements of evaluation in place,” says Jennifer Warren from FHWA’s Office of Safety. “But by organizing these elements into a comprehensive program evaluation, States can realize additional benefits.”

By regularly reviewing their safety data and the status of strategy implementation, States can get a good picture of their progress on safety goals and objectives. They can adjust their strategies as needed and integrate those changes into updates of the State strategic highway safety plan.


The National Highway Institute recently began delivering a new, 2-day course, Transportation Performance Management for Safety (NHI-138006). Karen Miller, an organization performance specialist with Missouri DOT, attended the course. “It provides participants with a thorough understanding of the safety performance measures and how States and MPOs should consider various factors in setting targets,” she says.

NHI also is planning a course, Steps to Effective Target-Setting and Progress Assessment, that will provide a more indepth look at various ways to set performance targets across safety and other transportation programs. Visit for more information on the safety course and, when it becomes available soon, the target-setting course.

In addition, the FHWA Office of Safety and the Resource Center, in coordination with the NHTSA and FHWA division offices, will offer free 1-day workshops on safety target setting and coordination beginning in winter 2016. The workshops will bring State safety stakeholders together to discuss safety performance requirements and assist States in reviewing their data for the first round of target setting.

Technical Assistance

To achieve safety performance goals, State DOTs, MPOs, State highway safety offices (SHSOs), and other stakeholders must collaborate more closely than ever to set targets, identify problems, and plan countermeasures.

FHWA identified current practices for setting safety targets and established guidance for coordination among agencies. Literature reviews and in-person interviews set the stage for seven comprehensive State workshops, whose participants represented State DOTs, SHSOs, FHWA, NHTSA, and MPOs.

The workshops led to a final report, FHWA’s Safety Target Coordination Report (FHWA-SA-16-101), available at The report includes a variety of noteworthy practices that States have used to advance safety performance measures. For example, the South Carolina DOT has collaborated with MPOs to analyze crashes in their respective regions and to hold workshops on safety data as part of their long-term planning process.

Roadway Data Improvement Program

In 2013, FHWA’s Office of Safety developed the Roadway Data Improvement Program. The program’s core activity is to assemble a group of subject matter experts to review and assess a State’s procedures for data collection, analysis, management, governance, and interoperability. The team also assesses how well the State works with local agencies in sharing and exchanging data, and then reports its findings and makes recommendations for improvements. Since its formation, the program has conducted assessments for 10 States and for the National Park Service.

HSIP Key Dates
  • State DOTs, SHSOs, MPOs, and other stakeholders begin reviewing data and selecting targets for calendar year (CY) 2018.
July 2017
  • SHSOs report on the three identical CY2018 safety targets to NHTSA.
August 2017
  • State DOTs report CY2018 HSIP targets in the HSIP annual report to FHWA.
February 2018
  • MPOs must establish CY2018 HSIP targets.
April 15, 2019
  • States incorporate the new definition of serious injuries into their standards and processes.
December 2019
  • Data become available for use by FHWA to assess States’ achievement of CY2018 HSIP targets.
March 2020
  • FHWA reports findings to States indicating whether they have met or made significant progress toward meeting CY2018 HSIP targets.
June 2020
  • If a State does not meet or make significant progress toward meeting its targets, it must submit an HSIP implementation plan to FHWA by June 30, 2020, and spend certain safety funds only on safety projects in fiscal year 2021 (beginning October 2020).
September 2026
  • States must have access to the complete collection of the fundamental Model Inventory of Roadway Elements by September 30, 2026.

“The Roadway Data Improvement Program is exactly what the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities needed to hone our highway safety program,” says Jack Stickel, who managed the department’s Geospatial Engineering Services Section within the Information Systems and Services Division when the assessment took place in Alaska. “The program provides an awesome opportunity to get highway safety stakeholders together for 2 days, break down silos, and facilitate communications with data stewards. The insights and recommendations from the program team were right on and will play an instrumental role in improving our department’s highway safety programs.”

Next Steps

States are beginning to update their strategic highway safety plans, set safety performance targets, and collect and use Model Inventory of Roadway Elements to support a performance-based HSIP. In support of these efforts, States should review and update their existing processes to ensure consistency and compliance with the HSIP and safety PM final rules, but also, more important, to ensure that they are identifying and implementing the best solutions to address their safety needs.

States also should immediately take steps to meet the specific deadlines and requirements related to establishing and reporting safety targets, submitting annual HSIP reports, updating strategic plans, incorporating the new definition of serious injuries into standards and processes, and collecting and using the Model Inventory of Roadway Elements.

Under HSIP, States are spending approximately $3 billion per year to implement life-saving strategies, projects, and programs. But the benefits of this Federal-aid program extend even further. HSIP influences statewide policies that advance implementation of proven, effective countermeasures across entire roadway systems. In addition, improved data collection and analysis that result from the HSIP and safety PM final rules will not only improve safety decisionmaking, but also will influence all project development decisions through performance-based practical design. Through these efforts and further cooperation, the Nation will move closer to zero deaths on its roadways.

Dana Gigliotti is a transportation specialist with FHWA’s Office of Safety, where she leads efforts to implement safety performance management requirements. She has a bachelor’s degree in health sciences from Towson University.

Karen Scurry is a transportation specialist with FHWA’s Office of Safety, where she supports implementation of the Highway Safety Improvement Program and promotes the use of crash modification factors in transportation decisionmaking. Scurry holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Rutgers University. She is a registered professional engineer in New Jersey.

For more information, see or contact Dana Gigliotti at or 202–366–1290 or Karen Scurry at or 609–637–4207.