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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

1. The Importance of Developing a Local Road Safety Plan

1. The Importance of Developing a Local Road Safety Plan

Local Roads in Rural Areas

Over three-fourths of all road miles in the U.S. are in rural areas. Of those three million miles of rural roads, almost 80 percent are owned and operated by local entities. In 2009, rural roads accounted for approximately 33 percent of the vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. (Highway Statistics 2009 – Functional System Travel,, but 56 percent of fatalities.

Local roads in rural areas may have design elements that increase the risk of fatalities or serious injuries, such as inappropriately high speed limits, narrow lane widths and shoulders, steep ditches, or trees close to the roadway. Additionally, the low population density and sparse land use of rural communities can increase detection, response, and travel times for emergency services, reducing key factors in crash survivability. It typically takes more than twice as long for emergency services to arrive at a crash scene in a rural community compared to an urban community. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Crashes Take Their Toll on America’s Rural Roads (PDF), 2006.)

All States already have a comprehensive safety plan. A State’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) is a statewide-coordinated safety plan that provides a comprehensive framework for reducing highway fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads. It is a major component and requirement of the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) ( and is developed by the State Department of Transportation (DOT) in a cooperative process with local, State, Federal, and private sector safety stakeholders. The SHSP is a data-driven, comprehensive plan that establishes statewide goals, objectives, and key emphasis areas that integrates the 4 E’s – engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency services.

The purpose of an SHSP is to identify the State’s key safety needs and guide investment decisions to achieve significant reductions in highway fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads. Very often a State’s SHSP will include local and or rural roads as a specific emphasis area for safety improvements.

An LRSP can also be valuable for improving roadway safety. Local road practitioners across the country play a critical role in addressing crash risks at the local level and may be able to identify the specific or unique conditions that contribute to crashes within their jurisdictions. The LRSP offers a foundation for consensus and focus. It defines key emphasis areas and strategies that impact local rural roads and provides a framework to accomplish safety enhancements at the local level, whereas the SHSP prioritizes safety needs and investments at the State level. However, the State SHSP may provide inputs to the LRSP. Likewise, the LRSP can feed the SHSP process to identify local road specific safety issues. Altogether, the LRSP is a coordinated effort that assists local agencies in taking a proactive stance in reducing and preventing local road fatalities and injuries. This document guides the development of an LRSP.

Benefits of a Local Road Safety Plan

An LRSP can be an effective tool for saving lives and reducing injuries on local rural roadways. While this is ultimately the purpose of an LRSP, there are other benefits that may be realized in the process of developing an LRSP. These benefits are summarized in Table 1.1.

Table 1.1: Summary of the Benefits of a Local Road Safety Plan.

Proactive Approach An LRSP offers a proactive approach for local road agencies to address safety issues. An LRSP can show the public and policy makers that something is being done to systematically reduce severe crashes, thereby building trust with local government officials, key stakeholders, and the general public.
Develop Partnerships An LRSP provides local agencies an opportunity to improve relationships with the public, stakeholders, and across governmental agencies by working through a collaborative process. Improving road safety is a benefit for everyone involved.
An LRSP is a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing safety. Agencies are better able to develop more effective solutions and leverage resources by considering and coordinating engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency service strategies.
Safer Roadways An LRSP facilitates a comprehensive approach to addressing road safety that—if successfully implemented—can lead to projects that reduce severe crashes.
Safety Funding An LRSP with a prioritized list of improvements can help agencies better justify funding requests by documenting specific needs, particularly if they are consistent with emphasis areas and strategies identified in the State’s SHSP. An LRSP also shows that an agency has done its due diligence and can help an agency compete more effectively for limited funds.
Managing Liability An LRSP is one of several proactive risk management techniques that demonstrate an agency’s responsiveness to the safety needs of the public.

Critical Success Factors

The success of an LRSP is dependent on five critical components:

  • Having a champion: A champion advocates for the LRSP and gathers the political support to assist in its implementation.
  • Developing a clear vision and mission: A strategic vision and mission unite all  stakeholders with a common goal.
  • Assembling collaborative partners: Partners collaborate to implement the plan.
  • Allocating appropriate resources: Manpower and management are essential for ensuring a plan’s success.
  • Establishing open communication: The LRSP owners should foster open and frequent communication with stakeholders, community partners, and citizens as they develop and implement the plan.

If one of these components is not initially available, the plan should still move forward, as other components may be added or expanded as the plan is refined. For example, the plan may begin with a champion, but partners may be added as the plan develops. In fact, the plan itself may help attract partners.

Practitioners who are interested in developing and implementing an LRSP should also be fully aware of the other strategic goals within their organization and how the proposed LRSP will complement those goals.