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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

Case Studies

Highway Safety Manual (HSM) Implementation Pooled Fund Study States also requested information on how other States went about incorporating HSM-related language into their policy and procedures documents. This section presents as case studies the approaches taken by Louisiana and Washington.

Louisiana (Interviews with April Renard, LADOTD, May 26, 2016 and Dan Magri, LADOTD, June 9, 2016.)

In Louisiana, the traffic safety effort is driven by the State's "Destination Zero Deaths" mission, and the Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) is the vehicle to achieve this mission.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development developed Louisiana's SHSP in partnership with the Louisiana State Police (LSP) and the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission (LHSC). The plan identifies infrastructure and operations as one of the four emphasis areas the HSM as an important strategic guide. Specifically, the HSM implementation steps were identified as the following:

  • Develop an Implementation Plan for adopting the HSM as a guideline for Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LADOTD) project safety analysis.
  • Conduct HSM training courses to ensure practitioners are able to integrate the HSM into daily project.
  • Planning, programming, and engineering activities.
  • Evaluate and compare State crash, roadway, and traffic volume data availability to HSM data needs.

With the Secretary's complete support and the business unit leaders of the HSM Implementation Team focused on using the HSM… "it was accepted this is the way we do it now. This thought guides the institutionalization of the HSM in its use and in our policies." —Dan Magri, LADOTD

LADOTD safety staff determined that the support of the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) leadership was an essential component for successful implementation of the HSM within the DOTD business units. Successful implementation also depended on having a champion within the agency who was committed to the HSM implementation effort and to promoting use of the HSM at all levels of the agency. For LADOTD, the Highway Safety Administrator is the HSM champion. In addition, the LADOTD Secretary provided support for HSM integration into the agency's business units.

High-profile fatalities generally capture executive staff attention, especially when stakeholders contact the Secretary. Any time the Secretary needed information on a particular fatal crash, LADOTD safety staff took the opportunity to speak about the SHSP and Destination Zero Deaths initiatives. The Secretary supported these initiatives by assigning district employees to participate in regional safety coalitions throughout the State. In addition, the Secretary spoke of safety as LADOTD's number one priority and took the opportunity to address safety with engineering as a part of a multidisciplinary approach. Today, the LADOTD includes safety in the Department's vision and mission statements and views the HSM as a vital component in fulfilling the vision and mission to improve safety in Louisiana.

Given the Secretary's interest in safety and involvement with American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), she was named as the chair of the AASHTO Safety Management Subcommittee. As the subcommittee's leader, she recognized the evolution in the science of safety and supported the effort to fully implement the HSM in the LADOTD and nationally.

As specified in the SHSP, LADOTD established an HSM Implementation Plan and an HSM Implementation Team comprised of representatives from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), and several business units within LADOTD.

"The use of the HSM grew organically from a single project to widespread use and continues to grow with fundamental changes to policies and manuals." —April Renard, LADOTD

After AASHTO published the HSM in the spring of 2010, LADOTD, with the support of FHWA, conducted its first two HSM training courses in October 2010 to ensure practitioners were able to integrate the HSM into project planning, programming, and engineering. Following this initial training, two additional training sessions were conducted, one in December 2010 and one in April 2011.

An important aspect of the implementation process was the use of the HSM on the I-12 to Bush project. The Army Corps of Engineers asked LADOTD for input on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding the potential safety performance of the different proposed alignments. This effort showed the benefits of the HSM and created agency enthusiasm and engagement regarding the use of the HSM throughout the agency.

Together, these factors allowed for continued and supported growth in the implementation of the HSM. For LADOTD, using the HSM preceded and informed changes to the supporting policy and guidance documents. As the HSM use grew incrementally with project development, the HSIP, and the design exception process, HSM-based policy and guidance language evolved and continues to be incorporated in these types of document. It is recognized by LADOTD leadership that continued institutionalization of the HSM requires the HSM-based language be an explicit component of its current policy and guidance documents.

Washington (Interview with John C. Milton, Washington State Department of Transportation, June 8, 2016.)

In 2000, Washington State was the first State in the U.S. to adopt a zero-deaths based philosophy by creating the Target Zero initiative. As a leader in early adoption and innovation, the State was one of the first to consider implementation of the HSM across its planning, programming, and project development process.

According to the Washington State Strategic Highway Safety Plan, the vision of Target Zero is to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For this effort, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) partnered with the Washington State Patrol (WSP) and Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) and other organizations throughout the State.

In conjunction with Target Zero providing a vision for traffic safety, WSDOT recognized that safety was only one aspect of its entire program and tradeoffs would be necessary given the budget constraints that the department faced. Accordingly, WSDOT launched several initiatives to implement the principles of "practical solutions." Practical solutions focused on designing projects based on performance of design criteria for the context and needs of a given location while limiting right-of-way and environmental impacts. These initiatives centered on decisionmaking processes that were data driven and performance based, including quantitative safety analysis and evaluating risk of crashes.

"Within the Department, need provides opportunity. With HSM language in our policies and guidance documents regarding our approach to quantifying safety performance, we are able to highlight implementation and use of the HSM." —John C. Milton, WSDOT

For WSDOT, several significant components emerged, leading to incorporation of HSM-based language in critical documents, in particular the Design Manual, as well as the following:

  • AASHTO publication of the HSM in 2010.
  • Federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) and Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Acts.
  • Secretary's Executive Order E 1085, Sustainable Highway Safety Program.
  • Secretary's Executive Order E 1096, Agency Emphasis and Expectations.
  • Secretary's Executive Order E 1090, Moving Washington Forward: Practical Solutions.

Sustainable Safety is an approach to transportation safety at WSDOT that uses "…tools and procedures based on accepted science, data, and proven practice" in accordance with Secretary's "Executive Order E 1096, Agency Emphasis and Expectations," to target safety needs and "deliver the right solutions at the right time and at the right location." Practical Solutions is an approach to making project decisions that focuses on resolving the project need for the least cost without adversely impacting safety performance. Sustainable Safety is the approach adopted for resolving safety performance issues within WSDOT's Practical Solutions as directed in both E 1096 and the Secretary's "Executive Order E 1090, Moving Washington Forward: Practical Solutions." (Washington State Department of Transportation, Design Manual M 22-01.12, November 2015, page 321-1.)

Throughout this undertaking, WSDOT recognized that it is necessary to have an internal champion who is responsible for leading HSM implementation. The Director of Quality Assurance and Transportation System Safety accepted this role, along with partners in planning, programming, design, and traffic operations. In addition, as evidenced by the Secretary's Executive Orders, there is strong executive leadership and support for the HSM within the organization.

At the time of HSM publication WSDOT did not implement formal training on the HSM. The agency did, however, develop pilot courses for quantitative safety analysis, and now more formal training is being deployed. This effort included HSM training, sustainable safety, and human factors training. This training effort will augment the success WSDOT realized through small and deliberate HSM implementation steps and growing skills through on-the-job application of quantitative safety analyses.

For WSDOT, this confluence of the HSM publication and Secretary's Executive Orders allowed for near simultaneous change in all manuals and guidance while initiating implementation of the HSM. Within WSDOT, updating the Design Manual was a significant contribution to the institutionalization and widespread use of the HSM throughout the agency. The support of the Chief Engineer, State Design Engineer, State Traffic Engineer, and the Director of Multimodal Planning was critical to this success.


Several common themes were identified in the course of the review of these two State's programs that may provide guidance to other States implementing the HSM and incorporating HSM-based language into State DOT policies and guidance documents.

Theme 1—Zero-Deaths Based Plans, Strategies, and Strategic Highway Safety Plans

The HSM provides a science-based data-driven safety-performance-based approach to achieve the vision of reaching zero deaths and to support the SHSPs. An essential component of this effort is to continually drive HSM implementation and institutionalization of the HSM by incorporating language in supporting policy and guidance documents.

Theme 2—Champions for Highway Safety Manual

A dedicated champion for implementing the HSM and guiding the changes in manuals and policy is important. In addition, executive-level support and leadership across agency business units provides for greater success in integrating the HSM into the agency's processes and incorporating it into policies and guidance.

Theme 3—Need Provides Opportunity

In both States, small implementation steps led to success with the HSM; however, the process to include HSM-based language in policies and manuals differs for each. For Louisiana, incremental HSM implementation led to incremental changes in policy and guidance. In Washington, large-scale changes in philosophy and direction, including the use of HSM, led to widespread change in manuals and executive orders. The inclusion of HSM-based language in these documents sets the stage for institutionalization of the HSM.