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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Winter 2024

Date:
Winter 2024
Issue No:
Vol. 87 No. 4
Publication Number:
FHWA-HRT-24-002

Creating Safe and Equitable Transportation

by Rohini Kar
Two men look over a small-scale model of a car following a collision with a small-scale barrier during a crash test. Remnants of the model car's front end can be seen between the car and the barrier. Drawings of cars are in the background and crash data, such as scanning, speed, acceleration, and shown as pop ups. Image Source: © Framestock / AdobeStock.com.
Crash analysis is one of the key elements in creating safer roads and improving vehicle technology.

Safety is something that all individuals desire, and they expect that public roadway agencies will provide means of helping people travel efficiently and safely. Although all road users are at risk of serious crashes and resulting injuries, people who are black, Hispanic, indigenous, and/or live in rural areas have been found to be more impacted by traffic crashes compared to others. An equitable transportation system ensures that there is safe, reliable, and affordable mobility to meet the needs of all community members despite their income, age, abilities, or color.

There are growing concerns also with environmental issues, which will especially impact the health and safety of low-income areas having limited resources and transportation options. To alleviate these issues, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has a goal of creating a transportation industry with little to no fatalities or serious injuries for all citizens. The key strategies that FHWA is using are to improve safety data systems and other technologies, continue research on automated vehicles, implement regulations and policies on projects, and have a wide range of diversity within public agencies.

Crash Analysis

One key component to creating safer roads and vehicular technology is to analyze potential issues in the transportation systems. FHWA highly encourages and supports agencies that study traffic control systems and crash data; for some agencies, FHWA provides technical assistance through the Roadway Data Technical Assistance Program so that they have a well-managed approach to track crashes on all public roads.

Cost-effective data management for States is also important when implementing changes, so FHWA encourages States to use data-driven safety analysis methods to create more effective plans that are not too expensive and are more effective. Improving roadway inventory and traffic volume components of safety data systems also helps with evaluations that decrease the number of crashes on all roads, ranging between urban and rural. Identifying the problems of roadways and traffic operations will lead to a more effective system and save more lives.

Transportation Projects

Fatality rates have been found to be more predominant in rural areas, yet a significant portion of the public funding and programs have been directed toward urban areas. To come up with safety solutions that aid disadvantaged regions, FHWA is continuing to support multiple programs that create projects that target rural areas.

Programs such as the Highway Safety Improvement Program and Strategic Highway Safety Plan are coming up with projects like the Lane Departure Program, which is designed to prevent drivers from drifting out of a lane, and the Railway-Highway Crossing Program, which works to reduce crashes at railroad crossings, to focus on rural roads that have higher fatality rates. Alongside FHWA, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a plethora of resources and opportunities to fund projects that can save lives on all public roads. All these programs and projects collectively add more opportunities to improve safety.

Drivers

To ensure that drivers and other road users are traveling in a well-monitored and managed transportation system, FHWA is also working toward several proven safety countermeasures. By implementing those countermeasures, different types of crashes and their severity can be reduced. According to USDOT’s safety website, “This strategy embraces a Safe System Approach, which builds multiple layers of protection around road users and is based on the reality that although people make mistakes, those mistakes do not have to be fatal.” By implementing proven safety countermeasures on all public roads, things like speed and roadway departures can be managed, which help the transportation industry work toward their goal of zero fatalities.

Automated Driving Systems

With rapid developments in technology, especially artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles serve as a window to the future of transportation. To address and mitigate safety concerns, such as hacking and malfunctioning, FHWA is encouraging evidence-based safety programs to conduct research to improve vehicle technology. Driverless cars that have extra safety features and regulations could potentially increase survival rates and decrease the number of fatalities. People who are disabled, unable to drive to work, or have other barriers will be able to travel in a much safer way since the cars are put through a series of tests and safety standards to ensure their safety before implementation in the real world. Devices and programs can also track crashes to develop safety tools that will increase its quality, which will help decrease crash-related fatalities and serious injuries everywhere.

Environment

Environmental concerns have also driven FHWA to take serious measures and precautions. In order for new infrastructure projects to be approved, Federal, State, and local agencies must research the area’s vulnerability to dangers such as floods, runoff, and water pollution. Many highways do not allow rainwater to penetrate, which results in the runoff of debris and pollution into water sources. The diminished water quality can significantly impact the health and safety of low-income and rural communities. FHWA has taken this into account and placed policies under the National Environmental Policy Act to control the water runoff after storms by altering transportation projects. Flood risks are also increasing throughout the years, which threaten the safety of communities that have flat pavements. The guidelines and requirements that FHWA placed are there to ensure that the road designs can prevent floods and keep all citizens and the ecosystem safe.

Conclusion

FHWA is constantly investing in the safety of the community and the environment. Federal grant programs and funding prioritize small businesses, communities of color, and disadvantaged societies to ensure that there are not any cost or infrastructure burdens. Several projects are initiated so the technologies are being placed for the purpose of safety and effectiveness. To create a safe environment that is respecting cultural and historical grounds, FHWA also works with Tribal agencies to ensure that transportation projects are not disruptive. Overall, FHWA is working with many agencies to improve safety and the environment to eventually achieve their goal of zero fatalities nationwide.


Rohini Kar is a junior at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, AZ, and will graduate in 2025.

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