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Public Roads - September/October 2014

September/October 2014
Issue No:
Vol. 78 No. 2
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

Spotlight on Safety Solutions


President Barack Obama recently toured the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, VA. He had the opportunity to try out the center’s highway driving simulator and experience first-hand one of the cutting-edge tools FHWA uses to improve safety and mobility on the Nation’s roads.

During the visit, I discussed with the President the critical need for additional research, as more than 30,000 people die and 2 million more are injured on U.S. roads every year. Advancing the safety of highways is FHWA’s top priority. Safety research remains focused on understanding the complex conditions and interactions that pose significant safety risks and identifying the most promising solutions.

In this issue of Public Roads, an article titled “Your Go-To Data Source for Roadway Safety Research,” on page 2, provides an overview of the Highway Safety Information System (HSIS), a multistate database maintained and operated by the FHWA Office of Safety Research and Development. For more than 20 years, the HSIS dataset has proven to be a valuable tool for helping researchers to identify effective safety solutions for State and local jurisdictions by combining high-quality data on roadway geometry, traffic, and crashes provided by participating State departments of transportation (DOTs).

In other cases, FHWA works directly with States to test and evaluate designs for safety. For example, agency staff worked with their DOT counterparts in Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, and North Carolina to study the safety performance of an intersection design known as the restricted crossing U-turn (RCUT). The results of that study are described in “The ABCs of Designing RCUTs” on page 9. Intersection crashes represent about 25 percent of all traffic-related fatalities. Rural roads in particular pose a significant safety challenge, largely because it is difficult to identify design solutions that can be deployed inexpensively across such a vast number of lane miles.

FHWA’s Evaluations of Low-Cost Safety Improvements Pooled Fund Study is developing reliable estimates of the effectiveness of low-cost safety improvements. With a growing membership that includes 38 State DOTs, this study is providing cost-effective solutions to some of the States’ most significant safety challenges. (See “Gaining Traction on Roadway Safety” in the July/August 2014 issue.)

In addition to these more traditional approaches to traffic safety, FHWA has set its sights on the future. Specifically, through the Second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2), FHWA supported a revolutionary naturalistic driving study (NDS), which recorded data on more than 3,000 volunteer drivers as they drove over 1 million combined miles (1.6 million kilometers) in their instrumented vehicles. Using this dataset in combination with detailed data on 12,000 miles (19,312 kilometers) of roadways collected in a companion roadway information database (RID), researchers now can move beyond the typical associations between drivers and roadways to perform more detailed examinations of the actual causes of crashes and near-crash events.

And, FHWA’s forthcoming Safety Training and Analysis Center will provide opportunities for States and graduate students to use these linked datasets to gain insights into real-world driver behaviors — insights that could lead to the next great leap in transportation safety.

No matter the data source or analytical method, FHWA is continually advancing traffic safety through sound research and the promotion of effective solutions. FHWA will not be completely satisfied until everyone who travels on the Nation’s highways can always arrive at their destinations alive and unharmed.

Monique R. Evans
Director, Office of Safety Research and Development
Federal Highway Administration