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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
FHWA Highway Safety Programs

Executive Summary

Regional planning organizations (RPO) are poised to assist state departments of transportation (DOT) and local officials in addressing the safety needs in nonmetropolitan areas. By identifying transportation safety needs in RPO transportation plans, funding for safety countermeasures or other transportation improvements can be programmed into long-range transportation plans (LRTP) and statewide or regional Transportation Improvement Programs (S/TIP).

The most recent crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) indicates that rural fatalities account for 55 percent of all fatalities, although Census Bureau figures show only 19 percent of the United States population living in rural areas.

Every RPO engages in a planning process to understand the regional issues and needs, either through the development of a regional plan, by providing input into the statewide plan, or coordinating the development of other planning documents. During the development of any of these plans, the opportunity exists to incorporate safety into the process. The terminology may differ across agencies, but the basic elements of a transportation planning process include:

  • Public Involvement and Outreach;
  • Multidisciplinary Coordination and Input;
  • Data Collection and Analysis (Problem Identification);
  • Development of Goals and Objectives;
  • Identification of Performance Measures and Targets;
  • Project Prioritization and Programming; and
  • Monitoring and Evaluation.

This Technical Report provides regional planners in nonmetropolitan areas with methods for integrating safety into each of the above-mentioned planning elements, with the goal of incorporating safety into all the elements to help planners address multimodal safety needs. Key methods for integrating safety in the planning processes for rural regions, which are expanded in the document, are highlighted below.

Public Involvement: A key function of the transportation planning process is soliciting input from stakeholders, local officials, and the public to inform decisions regarding regional priorities.

Safety Integration – RPOs can solicit and provide information on safety topics through surveys, comment cards, open houses, newsletters, and social media. This will also help to ensure that any safety stakeholders who are not reached through specific multidisciplinary coordination efforts have the opportunity to weigh in, along with gathering safety-specific input from the general public.

Multidisciplinary Coordination: RPOs often establish committees to discuss and analyze system needs, and use that information to make informed decisions regarding programs and projects.

Safety Integration – Discussing safety at various RPO committee meetings (i.e., Policy, Technical, Bicycle/Pedestrian) and/or identify opportunities to engage safety stakeholders in committee discussions can promote awareness and stimulate action. In addition, safety workshops, or summits can be used to engage transportation stakeholders specifically on safety topics. Involving representatives from law enforcement, emergency medical services, schools, and other professions with safety interests in committees, workshops, and summits institutionalizes the role of safety professionals and stakeholders within RPOs.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data collection and analysis methodologies inform regional trends and challenges, which are used to identify goals, objectives, policies, programs, and projects.

Safety Integration – RPOs can utilize crash, roadway, traffic volume data, bicycle and pedestrian counts, transit data, or customized reports to identify current safety concerns and make decisions for improved transportation safety.

Development of Goals and Objectives: Goals address key desired outcomes, and supporting objectives are statements that support achievement of goals. They provide the framework for evaluating different transportation system options, strategies, policies, programs, and projects.

Safety Integration – RPOs can utilize public and stakeholder input, the results of data analysis, and information in other plans to develop safety goals and objectives in the planning process and associated documents.

Identification of Performance Measures and Targets: Performance measures can support the goals, objectives, or both and serve as a basis for making investment decisions and tracking results over time. A target is a numeric goal an agency desires to achieve over some period of time.

Safety Integration – RPOs can identify performance measures and utilize crash data to set targets to track progress toward the safety goals, objectives, programs, and/or projects.

Project Prioritization and Programming: This is the process by which projects and/or programs are ranked and prioritized to match the desired outcomes of goals, objectives, and performance measures.

Safety Integration – RPOs can include safety considerations in the prioritization and programming processes for the TIP, and can establish processes for prioritizing Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funds.

Monitoring and Evaluation: Monitoring can occur at the system, corridor, goal, emphasis area, or project level. The purpose is to inform performance and assist with the selection of programmatic or investment choices moving forward.

Safety Integration – RPOs can routinely monitor and track safety performance to evaluate progress towards meeting performance measures and targets.