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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

Revisiting SHSP Emphasis Areas

FHWA guidance suggested Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) emphasis areas be selected “that offer the greatest potential for reducing fatalities and injuries.” In developing their original SHSPs, most states began with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) SHSP as a guide. States selected and prioritized from AASHTO’s 22 emphasis areas based on data analysis using various combinations of fatality and serious injury data. Some states defined new emphasis areas (i.e., rockfall). Others combined crash categories into broader priority areas (i.e., vulnerable road users including pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists). A few states organized emphasis areas into tiers defined by expected benefits and levels of implementation effort.

Safety priorities change as opportunities arise and/or barriers prevent progress. Some states defined review and update schedules and processes in their original SHSPs. Some initiated updates to improve their SHSPs after a few years of implementation effort demonstrated a need to revisit their emphasis areas. Others initiated updates to take advantage of lessons learned and experiences shared at the national level. A well organized update process helps states ensure the SHSP remains relevant and meaningful, and efforts continue to focus on areas with the greatest potential to improve safety.

Practices for revisiting emphasis areas range from simply reviewing updated data to reconfirm original emphasis area selections, to comprehensive data analysis and stakeholder outreach to take a fresh look at current and potential new emphasis areas. A number of states determined their first SHSP took on too much and decided to scale back to a more manageable number of emphasis areas. In such cases, fatality and injury data have been weighed against other factors such as available resources and levels of stakeholder cooperation. Some states actively track SHSP implementation and monitor performance measures on an ongoing basis as part of their review and update process.

For many states, developing the original SHSPs was a major undertaking. Not all are able to invest the same level of resources or maintain the same level of stakeholder interest in the update process. Some states opting to reduce the number of emphasis areas in their SHSPs have had difficulty determining the appropriate scope and selection criteria. Emerging topics, such as distracted driving, are also proving complicated to address in SHSPs when the science has not advanced far enough to allow for the same level of data analysis and countermeasure selection.

Noteworthy Practices

The following cases demonstrate noteworthy practices three states are using in revisiting SHSP emphasis areas:

  • West Virginia focused their update efforts on reducing SHSP emphasis areas to a more manageable number. The state re-examined the data seeking a noticeable break in the number of fatalities attributed to different contributing factors and were able to identify four emphasis areas accounting for the majority of fatalities. Cross analyzing the data confirmed those areas also encompassed the largest portions of other crash types. The process of paring down the number of emphasis areas has reinvigorated stakeholders and generated strong support from safety partners. (read more)
  • Washington State’s Target Zero workgroup conducted an exhaustive analysis of 11 years of crash data to determine areas with the greatest potential to reduce deaths and disabling injuries. The resulting Target Zero update established four priority levels of emphasis areas. The four-tier structure helps to more effectively prioritize the traffic safety emphasis areas and apply the resources needed to address the Target Zero vision. In addition, the latest update includes county-level data analysis using the same four-tier priority level framework. (read more)
  • Louisiana began the process of updating their SHSP with one of the primary objectives to “narrow the focus of the SHSP to the areas of greatest need and potential for success as identified through a detailed data analysis process.” Two of the original emphasis areas were aggressive driving and distracted driving. Data analysis confirmed these continue to be significant safety problems, but revealed difficulty in assessing the nature and true extent of the problems. The State elected to establish task forces to examine these issues in greater depth, define the issues, and identify strategies and actions with some promise before reinstating them as full SHSP emphasis areas. (read more)

To access these full case studies, click on the individual links above or visit the FHWA Office of Safety on-line at: