Approximately 60 percent of all road miles in the U.S. are non-Interstate, rural roads owned and operated by local entities, such as towns, counties, and tribal governments. In 2009, 56 percent of highway deaths occurred on rural roads, though only 23 percent of Americans live in rural areas. Furthermore, the fatality rate was 2.6 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas, underscoring the need to systematically improve road safety in rural areas.
All States already have a comprehensive safety plan that provides a framework for reducing highway fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads; this is known as the State’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP). The SHSP is a data-driven plan that establishes statewide goals, objectives, and key emphasis areas that integrates the 4 E’s of Safety – engineering, education, enforcement and emergency services. The SHSP can assist local practitioners in addressing safety on local rural roads but a locally-focused plan is often needed to address the unique conditions that contribute to safety problems and to assist local practitioners in making informed safety investment decisions. These challenges faced by local agencies can be addressed through the creation of a Local Road Safety Plan (LRSP).
An LRSP is a locally-coordinated safety plan that provides a comprehensive framework to identify key safety needs and guide safety investment decisions on local rural roads. An LRSP provides an excellent opportunity for agencies at all levels of government (local, State, and Federal) and other stakeholders to work together to align and leverage resources and funding to address the safety challenges unique to rural roads.
In general, the LRSP development process involves six steps:
Step 1: Establish Leadership
Step 2: Analyze Safety Data
Step 3: Determine Emphasis Areas
Step 4: Identify Strategies
Step 5: Prioritize and Incorporate Strategies
Step 6: Evaluate and Update the LRSP
Successful development of an LRSP depends on fostering leadership and communication among various stakeholders. This can start with the identification of a safety champion. The safety champion advocates for the plan’s successful development, implementation, and evaluation. It is also important to establish an LRSP working group. This is the team responsible for developing the LRSP, performing duties ranging from defining each working group member’s role to tracking progress after the initial plan is developed. The working group also identifies and contacts other stakeholders who can further the LRSP process by helping to plan, implement, and evaluate the progress of achieving the safety goals outlined in the LRSP.
Local road practitioners should analyze any available safety data to identify problem areas that will be addressed in the LRSP. Crash data should be used to identify safety issues. Typically, three years of crash data are needed to average out those years of extreme numbers. If crash data are not readily available, other safety-related data can be used to identify safety issues. The analyses of these data could range from simply marking locations on a map to using a spreadsheet to determine trends by location, crash type, or other factors.
The working group should identify emphasis areas consistent with trends identified during the data analysis and the concerns of the various stakeholders. Strategies to address emphasis areas should consider the 4 E’s to comprehensively address safety. The proposed strategies for each emphasis area should be prioritized based on benefit (e.g., reduction in crashes) verses cost, the availability of manpower, the schedule for implementation, and the relative importance of each emphasis area. Some strategies can be implemented as part of a systemic improvement process such as providing rumble strips along rural corridors as part of a summer paving program or conducting an enforcement blitz. Detailed information on effective strategy selection may be acquired through partnerships with State or local agencies or by contacting the State Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP).
LRSPs should be monitored for progress to ensure implementation of strategies that support emphasis areas and to determine if new strategies need to be considered. This helps provide accountability and can be used to keep stakeholders informed and engaged. Evaluation of the LRSP strategies should be ongoing to ensure the effectiveness of the projects and the overall plan.
Addressing safety on local rural roads can be challenging. The development of an LRSP can serve as a cornerstone to building a comprehensive safety program to address the safety challenges on the roadways. Depending on needs and jurisdiction, the LRSP will vary in size and level of detail. The LRSP is a living document and should be revisited as established goals are achieved.