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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

Chapter 1 – SHSP Fundamentals


In the complex, multidisciplinary world of transportation safety, leaders bring together the diverse interests and concerns of engineers, planners, law enforcement officers, education officials, emergency response personnel, and others. Because people who work within this diverse set of disciplines have the potential to improve safety, it is important they work collaboratively. A partnership among these disciplines during every stage of the SHSP process is critical. At a minimum, the collaborative effort should result in the communication and adoption of the SHSP vision, mission, goals, and performance measures among the agencies. This chapter discusses the fundamental need for an SHSP Champion, leadership, safety partners, collaboration, and communication and suggests strategies to help integrate these elements into the SHSP process.


Successful SHSP efforts call for at least one "champion" to assist in gathering all critical safety partners into a collaborative group. Champions provide enthusiasm and support for the SHSP and must be credible and accountable, have excellent interpersonal and organizational skills, and be a skilled expediter. Safety champions help secure the necessary leadership, resources, visibility, support, and commitment of all partners. Sometimes the champion is appointed by the department of transportation (DOT) leadership or the leadership of the primary sponsoring agency. A safety champion can reside at any level within the organizational structure and perform various functions. For example, a safety champion may lead the working group that develops and implements the SHSP and is responsible for maintaining the group’s cohesion, focus, and effectiveness. In this case, champions sustain the working group’s interest and momentum and promote communication and collaboration among the partners. Where relationships are not fully developed, the champion may have to put in additional effort in keeping the full range of safety partners committed and actively participating.


Leaders are an instrumental part of any planning process, and the SHSP process is no exception. They bring people together, provide essential direction, and motivate people to participate in and implement the SHSP. Leaders should be engaged and actively involved in the SHSP process. Leadership support should come from the State DOT, State Highway Safety Office or Governor’s Highway Safety Office (SHSO/GHSO), State Commissioners (e.g., of Health, Education, Police), etc. Good leaders influence policy direction, set priorities, and define performance expectations. They energize the SHSP process and see to it that the plan, once developed, is implemented. They are risk takers, problems solvers, and creative thinkers committed to doing what is necessary to advance the cause, which sometimes means breaking traditional institutional barriers, such as working in "silos" and balancing competing agency priorities. Leaders are needed throughout all stages of SHSP development, implementation, and evaluation. They communicate the SHSP vision and goals and support a collaborative framework that enables safety stakeholders to actively participate in SHSP implementation.

To expand leadership support, begin with the safety partners already committed to the SHSP concept and process. Encourage the leadership of those partners to contact their peers, explain the significance of this effort, and marshal support. Their endorsement of the SHSP should include encouraging staff to stay engaged and build relationships across organizational boundaries and traditional areas of responsibility. Leadership support affects agencies or organizations internally by granting permission to dedicate time and resources to the effort, and holds those responsible for the SHSP accountable. Support must be sustained throughout the process for continuous implementation and evaluation. Leadership should recognize this is an ongoing process and institutionalize the change in the safety decision-making culture.

SHSP leadership also includes SHSP program managers who manage and attend to the day-to-day tasks of arranging, facilitating, and documenting meetings, tracking progress, and moving discrete activities through to completion. The SHSP program manager may perform either as a part- or full-time permanent role; experience demonstrates that a dedicated role is preferable.

In some cases, a single person may fulfill the Champion, Leadership, and Program Manager role, but it is more often the case that these responsibilities are assumed by multiple people.

Organizational Structure

The SHSP process depends upon collaboration among engineers, law enforcement personnel, emergency responders, outreach professionals, and other safety stakeholders. A formal organizational structure facilitates the SHSP management process. It helps the stakeholders understand their role and establishes a decision-making hierarchy.

The organizational structure will vary from State to State. Regardless of the form it takes, it should function to oversee the SHSP process; from development and implementation to evaluation.

An example of an SHSP organizational structure could be:

Diagram - An example of a typical SHSP (Strategic Highway Safety Plan) organizational structure.

Source: Cambridge Systematics, Inc.

An executive committee or leadership council is typically made up of members who are leaders of departments and agencies, such as transportation, State highway safety offices (SHSO), public safety, statewide law enforcement organizations, licensing agencies, departments of health and education, and others. States form executive committees to provide leadership for SHSP development, implementation, and evaluation. Executive committees are typically comprised of top management representatives from the stakeholder agencies, which helps gain consensus at a high level. The members of this committee have the authority to commit agency resources to the planning process and promote the SHSP within individual agency plans. Executive committees typically meet one or more times a year and are responsible for the overall direction and administration of SHSP activities. SHSP executive committees are generally responsible for defining priority issues and providing direction to steering committees or working groups.

To facilitate a consultative and comprehensive approach to safety, many States have found it beneficial to establish a steering committee (or sometimes called a working group) to guide the SHSP process. This committee will typically oversee the ongoing development and implementation of the plan. They usually meet quarterly or on an established schedule to review progress in each of the plan’s emphasis areas, and to receive updates on SHSP-related strategies and programs. They also provide assistance when appropriate to overcome barriers or solve problems, and provide recommendations to the Executive Committee on SHSP initiatives or areas that require a higher-level solution.

The steering committee also should consist of representatives from the agencies across engineering, education, enforcement, emergency medical services (EMS), public health, and other disciplines. This is consistent with the Federal requirements for State DOTs to develop and implement a strategic highway safety plan (SHSP) in consultation with:

  • The Governor’s highway safety representative;
  • Regional and metropolitan transportation planning organizations;
  • Representatives from the major transportation modes;
  • State and local traffic enforcement officials;
  • The Governor’s highway-rail grade crossing representative;
  • Representatives conducting a motor carrier safety program;
  • County transportation officials;
  • State representatives of nonmotorized users;
  • Motor vehicle administration agencies; and
  • Other major Federal, State, tribal, and local safety stakeholders (23 U.S.C. 148(a)(12)(A)).

In addition to Federally required safety partners, the working group also may include other safety advocates from government, academia, special interest groups, and the private sector. These members should be selected based on their level of expertise and commitment to highway safety. Participants can be appointed by leadership or invited to participate by the SHSP champion. DOTMetropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and regional transportation planners should be involved. Likewise, given the high number of highway fatalities and serious injuries that occur on non-State roads, local, regional, and tribal agencies should be invited and encouraged to participate. Local/Tribal Technical Assistance Programs (LTAP/TTAP) also can help represent local need and issues.

Some working groups develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to facilitate communication among transportation professionals within the participating organizations. The MOU briefly describes the common goal of improved highway safety and emphasizes the commitment to work as a team to achieve a shared vision. A MOU reminds members of their mission and goals, emphasizes the importance of each participant’s contribution, helps the group remain focused, and can increase understanding and trust among the agencies and organizations.

States may form an emphasis area team for each emphasis area. Emphasis areas are based on analysis of the safety data and input from safety stakeholders. Emphasis area teams conduct further analyses of safety data and develop emphasis areas action plans (see Chapter 4). Reducing highway fatalities and serious injuries is contingent upon a multiagency collaborative effort. These emphasis area teams are usually comprised of representatives from agencies representing the 4 E's. The benefits of participation include the ability to influence strategic priorities and resource allocation. Team members include technical specialists knowledgeable in the emphasis area and safety professionals whose program plans are directly affected by the emphasis area strategies.

Most States also have an SHSP program coordinator who is responsible for overall management of the day-to-day SHSP activities.

Many States use some version of the structure described above, but again this will vary among States. The goal is to create a structure that will help States effectively administer and manage the SHSP process and best meet their organizational needs.

Safety Partners

The organizational structure of State agencies and interagency working relationships are important factors to consider when bringing safety partners together. Rather than create entirely new committees, a State should build upon existing relationships, interagency working groups, and committees. Many States currently have functioning transportation safety committees such as Traffic Records Coordinating Committees (TRCC), and impaired driving or safety belt coalitions. Some States have revitalized past Safety Management Systems. Regardless of how safety partners are brought together and organized to contribute to the SHSP process, States should look for ways to expand membership to include a broad range of partners, such as insurance, trucking, and motor coach companies, fire and rescue, local businesses, and others. Each State and community has its own character, but with local input, the "movers and shakers" can be identified and recruited. SHSP partners typically include those that are Federally required (see previous section) as well as emergency medical services providers, health and education departments, Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) managers, local agencies, tribal governments, special interest groups (i.e.MADDAAA), and others.

With the emphasis on wide-ranging collaboration that includes many external partners, it can be easy to overlook the importance of broad DOT involvement as well. Early involvement of Design, Operations, Maintenance, etc. will enhance the implementation of SHSP strategies, especially if they are new or experimental.

Some States bring partners together by convening a safety summit or meeting. This could be a large initial meeting to kickoff an SHSP update or a meeting of the SHSP working group or steering committee. It provides an opportunity to learn about each of the safety partner priorities and understand what they contribute. States should give participants the opportunity to describe their safety concerns and current programs. This may advance the discussion of critical safety issues, identify opportunities, and forge an agreement on how to proceed.

"Coming together is an accomplishment, staying together is progress, working together is success."

- Henry Ford

Collaboration and Communication

Safety partners and organizations bring unique and valuable perspectives to bear on the transportation safety problem. However, differing philosophies, competing priorities, and varying business cultures may make collaboration a challenge. Creating a basic foundation for effective collaboration and establishing a process to support collaborative efforts overcomes these barriers. Techniques for establishing a foundation include:

  • Establishing common mission statements, performance measures, goals, and safety objectives; and incorporating them into each agency’s priorities;
  • Implementing a data collection and analysis strategy to support collaborative safety planning and identifying mechanisms for sharing data and analysis results with local agencies and other safety partners; and
  • Organizing and institutionalizing opportunities for interaction through workshops, forums, training courses, and conferences.

Once the foundation is established, States can support ongoing collaboration and communication by:

  • Institutionalizing an analysis-driven process to focus all members and collaboration activities on the most pressing road safety problems;
  • Adopting an implementation focus early in the process to define who will do what, by when, and identify the resources needed to accomplish the tasks;
  • Adopting an evaluation focus from the beginning; collaboratively defining performance measures and data collection needs required to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the SHSP efforts;
  • Periodically reviewing the current organizational relationships among the different safety partners and identifying opportunities to strengthen these relationships;
  • Creating a memorandum of understanding or other type of agreement (if applicable) to institutionalize the collaborative process so it outlasts the current participants;
  • Establishing regular communication with safety partners. Utilizing collaborative technology, such as listservs, chat rooms, web sites, and other electronic forms of communication to encourage greater interaction;
  • Developing emphasis area action plans (see Chapter 4) for the specific emphasis areas in the SHSP to encourage partners to maintain their role in SHSP implementation;
  • Providing regular status updates in the SHSP focus or emphasis areas so partners understand the impact of their role in implementing the SHSP;
  • Examining the effectiveness of both formal and informal interagency communications; and
  • Identifying resource and training needs to support the collaborative safety effort.


Following the recommended steps in the checklist below will help build SHSP fundamentals into SHSP development and implementation.

❑ Identify one or more SHSP Champions.

❑ Keep SHSP leaders engaged and actively involved.

❑ Establish an organizational structure to oversee the SHSP process.

❑ Involve organizations representing engineering, education, enforcement, and EMS in developing the SHSP.

❑ Identify both traditional and nontraditional safety partners and enlist their support in the SHSP effort.

❑ Establish strategies to support ongoing collaborative efforts.

❑ Establish regular communication with safety partners.