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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

Chapter 3 – SHSP Content


The SHSP is the State’s guiding highway safety plan. Its success is dependent upon the State’s ability to effectively implement and evaluate the plan. To accomplish this, the SHSP should include the following critical content: performance measures; strategic goals and objectives; emphasis areas; and emphasis areas goals, objectives, strategies, and countermeasures.

States should use safety data to identify emphasis areas and establish strategic goals and objectives. This helps direct limited resources to the most critical safety needs. Performance measures are essential to monitor progress of statewide and emphasis area safety goal(s) and objectives.

Performance Management

Performance management is critical for any strategic planning process. Through performance management a State can monitor the status of SHSP implementation efforts and measure progress toward SHSP goals. This is accomplished by establishing performance measures.

Safety issues vary across the country; therefore, no single set of performance measures is applicable to all States. However, it is important that what is measured is directly tied to the goals and objectives that the State establishes in the SHSP. In addition, legislation requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish performance measures for the Federal-aid program (MAP-21 requires these performance measures to be established and defined in Regulation by 2014). In the area of safety these measures are the number and rate of serious injuries and fatalities. States will be required to set targets for and report on these performance measures, so they should be considered when developing SHSP performance measures as well.

Performance measures are used to streamline the tracking and evaluation process by establishing consistent data and reporting methods from one period to the next. Performance measures provide quantifiable evidence of progress and help managers determine whether the SHSP is meeting its stated goals and objectives. Ideally, performance measures should be developed prior to implementation to track progress by emphasis area and identify the data that must be collected.

Performance measures can be classified as "output" or "outcome" measures.

  • Output measures are quantitative and indicate the level of activity or effort. For example, an output measure for rumble strips would be the number of center line miles along which rumble strips are installed. Output measures also can be used to track cost and productivity.
  • Outcome measures provide an indication of the effectiveness of the SHSP strategies or actions in meeting the fundamental objectives of the SHSP. An example of an outcome measure would be the number of run-off-the-road fatalities.

Performance Measures

NHTSA and the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) developed a set of core performance measures. Some of them are:

  • Number of traffic fatalities (three- or five-year moving averages);
  • Number of serious injuries in traffic crashes;
  • Number of speeding-related fatalities;
  • Number of pedestrian fatalities; and
  • Observed seat belt use for passenger vehicles.

For a list of all NHTSA/GHSA performance measures, please see this jointly developed report: Traffic Safety Performance Measures for States and Federal Agencies.

States can also review A Primer on Safety Performance Measures for the Transportation Planning Process, developed by FHWA, for help in creating safety performance measures.

Strategic Goals and Objectives

Every State should establish SHSP goals and measurable objectives that address traffic safety. These goals and objectives should include behavioral as well as infrastructure issues and opportunities on all public roads (which include non-State-owned roads, rural roads, and roads on tribal land). Strategic goals are high-level, longer-term goals that usually span an extended time period. For example: Move toward zero deaths and reduce traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries.

The SHSP strategic goals should be consistent with the State highway safety program and commercial vehicle safety plan (CVSP). In turn, the strategic safety goals in the State’s other transportation plans should align with those in the SHSP. States should review the safety goals and plans of participating agencies (Highway Safety Plan (HSP), CVSP, etc.), and agree on mutually acceptable goals or collaboratively review safety trends and forecast performance.

The SHSP also defines the measurable, time bound objectives – what the plan will accomplish by when. Some States may prefer to adopt an objective expressed in the total number or percentage reduction in highway fatalities and serious injuries in combination with a timeframe or express the objective as a fatality rate per vehicle-miles traveled. Example objectives are "reduce statewide roadway fatalities 10 percent by 2015," "lower highway fatalities to no more than 400 fatalities per year by 2020," and "reduce the fatality rate to 1.0 by 2015."

It is important to set criteria when developing objectives so it can be determined if the State is accomplishing what it set out to do. One set of objective setting rules commonly used is known as S.M.A.R.T. This criterion establishes objectives that are: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Reasonable, and Time Bound. These are briefly described below.

  • An objective is not general; it identifies exactly what the State wants to happen.
  • A measurable objective is quantifiable and can detect changes over time.
  • An action-oriented objective can be counted or observed.
  • A reasonable objective is realistic and reachable, versus what is simply desired.
  • A time-bound objective establishes a deadline.

Creating S.M.A.R.T. Objectives

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-oriented
  • Reasonable
  • Time bound

Emphasis Areas

Each State should identify emphasis areas based on analysis of the available safety data and input from safety stakeholders representing the 4 E’s of safety. Emphasis areas may change during SHSP updates based on the results of ongoing safety data analysis.

Many States have found a fewer number of emphasis areas (usually between four and eight) helps direct efforts and makes the SHSP a more "strategic" and effective plan. For example, a State may review annual fatality and serious injury data for the preceding five years. The top five areas representing the most fatalities and serious injuries are then selected for the SHSP.

States also may weigh other factors when considering emphasis areas, such as injury severity, high-risk roadway features that are correlated with particular crash types, risks associated with certain vehicle types, etc. For example, if a State has experienced a catastrophic bus crash, they may include in their data analysis a review of the number and severity of the injuries, the characteristics of the road where the crash occurred, the safety performance of the motor carrier operating the bus, and the volume of bus traffic on the road. After weighing these factors, they may determine that bus safety is a priority because, while bus crashes may be relatively infrequent, when they do occur they can cause a significant number of fatalities or serious injuries in a single event.

Recommendations on emphasis areas should be reviewed by the Steering Committee or Working Group, and then by the Executive Committee, which will typically make the final decision. A review by the SHSP committees will help ensure that emphasis areas represent a balance of resources and priorities.

Potential Emphasis Areas

  • Graduated drivers licensing
  • Licensed, competent drivers
  • Older drivers
  • Impaired drivers
  • Keeping drivers alert
  • Seatbelts and air bags
  • Bicyclists
  • Motorcyclists
  • Heavy trucks
  • In-vehicle enhancements
  • Vehicle-train crashes
  • Keeping vehicles on the road
  • Minimizing consequences of leaving road
  • Intersections
  • Aggressive driving
  • Driver safety awareness
  • Pedestrians
  • Head-on and cross median crashes
  • Work zones
  • Increasing EMS capabilities
  • Improving decision support systems
  • Processes and safety management systems

Source: AASHTO.

Goals and Objectives

States should develop goals and measurable objectives for each SHSP emphasis area. Measurable objectives enable States to gauge progress. For example:

  • Emphasis Area: Roadway Departure.
  • Goal: Reduce the occurrence and consequence of leaving the roadway.
  • Objective: By 2017, reduce the number of fatalities attributed to vehicles leaving the roadway by 15 percent from their 2012 level.

Strategies and Countermeasures

Once goals and objectives have been established, strategies and countermeasures for achieving each of them should be established.

The difference between strategies and countermeasures is subtle, and often the terms are used interchangeably. In this Guidebook, a strategy is defined as a plan or method to help achieve a goal, while a countermeasure is a specific action designed to support and implement the strategy.

For example, if the Emphasis Areas is Speed/Aggressive Driving, the strategies might be:

  • Deter aggressive driving in specific populations, including those with a history of the behavior, and in specific locations; and
  • Implement traffic calming measures.

The countermeasures may then include:

  • Tailored high-visibility enforcement;
  • Sanctions against repeat offenders;
  • Public awareness and education campaigns;
  • Installation of speed bumps; and
  • Installation of roundabouts.

As countermeasures are considered to address key emphasis areas, the following questions should be addressed:

  • What evidence-based and effective countermeasures are available for a particular emphasis area?
  • Are the countermeasures cost-effective?
  • What countermeasures lend themselves to cooperative efforts and how can partner resources be leveraged?

The SHSP is required to address engineering, management, operation, education, enforcement, and emergency services elements of highway safety (23 U.S.C. 148(a)(12)(C)) as key factors in determining strategies. High priority should be given to those strategies that could significantly reduce highway fatalities and serious injuries in the key emphasis areas. Systemic improvements and low-cost and achievable countermeasures also should be given consideration.

Evidence-Based Countermeasures

It is best to use countermeasures based on evidence from the research. These can be found in a variety of sources, including:

If the effectiveness of countermeasures or programs are not known, strategies should be accompanied by an evaluation plan to demonstrate effectiveness.


Following the recommended steps in the checklist below will help ensure that the critical content is included in the SHSP.

❑ Use safety data to develop comprehensive statewide safety goals and objectives.

❑ Develop goals and S.M.A.R.T. objectives for each emphasis area.

❑ Analyze the data and solicit safety stakeholder input to select emphasis areas.

❑ Define performance measures for each emphasis area that correspond to the goals.

❑ Establish strategies and countermeasures to achieve the goals and objectives.