National Agenda for Intersection Safety

Hari Kalla, P.E.
Transportation Specialist
Office of Safety Design
Federal Highway Administration

Background/Context
In the year 2000, there were more than 2.8 million intersection-related crashes representing 44 percent of all reported crashes. Approximately 8,500 fatalities (21 percent of the total fatalities) and almost one million injury crashes (over 48 percent of all injury crashes) occurred at or within an intersection environment. Given this high number of fatalities and injuries at intersections, many transportation and safety agencies and organizations are developing plans and programs that begin to address the intersection safety problem.

Intersection safety is one of the emphasis areas in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Strategic Highway Safety Plan. The AASHTO Strategic Plan is a comprehensive plan that brings together engineering, enforcement, education and emergency response management. Intersection safety is also included in the Institute of Transportation Engineers' Safety Action Plan. Intersection safety is recognized as one of four priority areas in the Federal Highway Administration's Performance Plan. The FHWA, AASHTO, and ITE are undertaking a number of initiatives to improve safety at our nation's intersections.

There is a growing realization of the need for traditional and non-traditional organizations to work together to make a substantive difference in the reduction of intersection-related crashes. In an effort to draw and focus the transportation and safety community's attention to intersection safety, AASHTO, ITE, FHWA, State Farm Insurance Company, and a host of other organizations sponsored a National Intersection Safety Workshop. Over 180 transportation and safety professionals convened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on November 14-16, 2001 for this Workshop on Intersection Safety. The goals of the National Workshop were to convene an expert group from the education, enforcement and engineering communities to identify and describe the intersection safety problem, to share and discuss the best practices for improving intersection safety, and most importantly, to develop a National Agenda on Intersection Safety. This National Agenda provides a vision and focus for the entire U.S. transportation community for the improvement of intersection safety.

The Workshop Program contained specific presentations focusing on law enforcement, engineering, and education topics related to intersection safety, and a series of breakout sessions and conversation circles that were designed to elicit optimal input and discussion from all participants. Each breakout group included 20 to 30 people that focused their discussions on urban, suburban or rural aspects of intersection safety. There were three breakout sessions with each having a specific focus.

The first breakout session focused on problem/opportunity identification. The objective of this session was to identify the major issues, challenges, and barriers that we face today in attempting to reduce intersection crashes.

The second breakout session had the objective of developing possible solutions. The group considered the following: (1) What resources/solutions do we already have in place to assist in intersection crash reduction efforts? What do we have already that is working? (2) What resources/solutions are not currently in place to assist in crash reduction efforts? And (3) Are there any other creative resources/solutions that have not been tried?

Within the third breakout session, the objective was to develop the National Agenda based on the solutions developed for each group. The Agenda included a host of strategies and a discussion of how they may be implemented.

Workshop Results
The National Agenda includes 11 categories of solutions and possible strategies. A summary of each strategy is provided below:

1. Programmatic and Legislative Options. Key strategies for programs and legislation recommended by the Workshop participants include:

  • Actively promote increased safety funding in Reauthorization.

  • Create safety program funds for use by local governments.

  • Make the current program more helpful at the local level.

  • Take "3%" of the highway funds in a given year and use for safety purposes.

  • Seek legislation that provides for 100 percent obligation of safety set-aside funds.

  • Implement best practices by providing incentives to states and local governments.

  • Tie funding to accountability and demonstration of results. Federal safety funds would be tied to performance standards.

  • Provide funding for safety evaluation training for engineers and technicians.

  • Develop a clearinghouse for intersection safety.

  • Seek legislation that provides dedicated funding for automated crash reporting.
2. Political Support. This issue addresses the need to educate political leaders to increase understanding of the importance of promoting and investing in safety programs. Participants indicated that transportation and safety professionals should redefine intersection safety as a quality of life issue. Several ways to do this include demonstrating benefits including economics and lives saved. Marketing and communications are necessary to be able to get the message to political leaders and the public that intersection safety is a national public health issue.

3. Safety Management. This issue addresses the lack of a systems approach. There is a need to get good information down to the local level where intersection safety can be addressed. One strategy that was defined includes developing and effectively using partnerships. Improving intersection safety will require the development of strong and permanent partnerships between law enforcement, education and engineering organizations. Participants at the Workshop commented that the "institutional table" needs to be widened to include existing and new advocates, professionals and business groups to support traffic safety initiatives, senior citizens, the disability community, and insurance companies. Communication, working together and developing a team approach are all keys to achieving successes. Partnerships are one way of ensuring this communication.

4. Research. Major issues that were addressed at the Workshop included: (1) lack of reliable data on the effectiveness of various safety countermeasures; (2) lack of focused research on the intersection problem; and (3) the need for a better understanding of human factors as related to the driver's decision making process within an intersection environment. Major strategies recommended include the conduct of research on (1) driver information countermeasures, (2) costs and benefits of intersection safety countermeasures, (3) advanced technologies and intersection collision avoidance systems, and (4) human factors research.

5. Traffic and Crash Record Systems. The Workshop participants cited a lack of accurate crash data, specifically inadequate coding, lack of standardized formats, and lack of information on the environment (e.g., signals) at the time of the crash. Participants indicated that it is essential for a dialogue to be developed between the users of crash data and collectors of crash data. The development and use of a standardized crash reporting system was indicated as a top priority including the use of GIS/GPS, logic checks and other quality control measures, and user-friendly applications. The development of a "data warehouse" that would provide for common linkages among databases was another key strategy that was discussed. Another significant issue that was discussed by the Workshop participants is the fact that the number of reported accidents to governmental entities is going down. The thresholds for reporting accidents to police are being raised and, consequently, the traffic engineering and law enforcement communities may not be getting the "entire picture" regarding the accident history and patterns at an intersection.

6. Engineering. Participants in the group believe there is a substantial deficiency in the understanding of the need for regular signal retiming programs. Proper signal timing is not universally achieved or maintained in numerous jurisdictions due to manpower and budget constraints. The Workshop participants believe that there is a need to educate communities, political leaders, and safety and transportation professionals on the safety and operational benefits of signal retiming. In addition, there is a substantial need to train both new and current traffic engineers regarding how to time a traffic signal.

7. Intersection Safety Audits. Currently, the Federal Highway Administration is providing training for Road Safety Audits and Road Safety Audit Reviews to a number of state departments of transportation throughout the United States. The Workshop participants indicated that a program for intersection safety audits/reviews should be developed. More specifically, participants indicated that a National Practice is needed and that a separate process should be developed both for urban and rural intersections. The National Practice should develop criteria for when an intersection audit should take place using such factors as vehicular and pedestrian volumes, school zones, crashes, and complaints. The participants indicated that an understanding of the requirements for pedestrians, cyclists and persons with disabilities should be included in the intersection audit.

8. Red Light Running. Issues with regard to red light running include: the need to clarify the benefits and dispel the myths associated with automated enforcement and the need to correctly calculate appropriate yellow clearance times at traffic signals. The Workshop participants cited the need to develop a best practices manual that would show successful strategies, avoid pitfalls and build support. The participants supported increased enforcement, including the use of cameras as a solution where engineering and education efforts have not worked.

9. Tools and Best Practices. The Workshop participants indicated that there is a substantial amount of information that has been produced. However, an inventory is needed to catalogue existing intersection safety analysis tools. It was suggested that a "combined" design and operations handbook for intersections be developed that integrates the requirements of vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, and the disabled. Part of the need once this information is catalogued, is to disseminate it to state and local agencies and communities. The Workshop participants indicated that Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) centers and the organizations that have participated in the development of the National Agenda for Intersection Safety should be used for this purpose. Access control was another major topic that was highlighted during the Workshop. Again, the need for a synthesis of state and local design standards and model ordinances, as well as Best Practices Handbook for access control, was cited as a priority need.

10. Outreach, Education and Training. There are a number of challenges in the transportation and safety communities related to training. Workshop participants indicated that a limited number of trained professionals (especially at the local level), a lack of safety training for the design of rural intersections, and a lack of human factors training are major issues that should be addressed in the National Agenda. Strategies that were identified include: (1) development and implementation of a training program for intersection safety that would educate professionals on those cost-effective improvements that hold the most promise for crash reductions; (2) increased use of safety peer-to-peer exchanges; (3) training on how human factors issues impact the complex intersection environment; and (4) development of community education venues and materials for drivers and pedestrians. Overall, the Workshop participants cited the need for all types of training venues such as ITE's online safety courses; web-based, distance learning resources; university graduate and undergraduate training; and continuing education opportunities. Currently, NHTSA's Safe Community Program does not include intersection safety as a principal component; however, the participants believed that this venue would be an excellent organizational mechanism that is already in place to conduct intersection safety outreach activities.

11. Marketing and Communications. Intersection safety is not accepted nationally as a public health problem. The public is not getting the message. The Workshop participants recommended that a number of steps be taken to address this issue including the allocation of resources to market intersection safety, and the use of communications specialists to conduct market research and to advise transportation and safety professionals on how to market the gravity of consequences for violating the law at intersections. In addition, the participants recommended that a media campaign be developed to create and sustain public awareness of intersection safety issues.

What's In Place Now?
There are number of efforts now in place that begin to address the intersection safety problem. The coalition of organizations and agencies that helped developed the National Agenda can begin to use these resources to implement measures to assist with the goal of intersection crash reduction.

AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan. The goal for this strategic plan is to positively impact the nation's present and predicted statistics on vehicular-related death and injury. The plan contains six main elements (Drivers, Special Users, Vehicles, Highways, Emergency Medical Services and Management) and 22 emphasis areas. The National Agenda for Intersection Safety ties its strategies to specific AASHTO emphasis areas to ensure coordination among various coalition partners. The AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan can be found on the following website: safetyplan.tamu.edu.

Project 17-18(3), FY 2000: Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan. This research will develop guidance to assist state and local highway agencies with implementing strategies to reduce fatalities by 10 to 15 percent in each of the following areas: aggressive driving, head-on and run-off-the-road crashes on two-lane roads, people who drive with suspended and revoked licenses, hazardous trees that need to be addressed in an environmentally acceptable manner, and unsignalized intersections. Information on this project can be found on the Transportation Research Board's website (www4.trb.org/trb/crp.nsf). Click on NCHRP, All Projects and go to "Area 17."

Intersection Safety Outreach Toolkit. This outreach toolkit will allow policymakers to have a user-friendly way to be able to communicate and elevate the awareness and understanding of the intersection safety problems when speaking to the public. A set of briefing sheets is under development. These briefing sheets will include facts, issues and potential solutions about various aspects of intersection safety. During CY 2002, the following briefing sheets will be available: (1) the National Intersection Safety Problem; (2) Red Light Running; (3) Red Light Cameras; (4) Basic Countermeasures to Enhance Intersection Safety; (5) What are Traffic Control Devices: Their Use and Misuse; (6) Intersection Safety Enforcement; (7) Safety of Pedestrians and Bicyclists in Intersections; (8) Human Factors Issues in Intersection Safety; (9) Intersection Safety Myths vs. Reality; (10) Highway and Street Work Zone Intersection Safety Issues; and (11) Intersection Safety Resources. This outreach toolkit will be made available on the FHWA website.

Intersection Safety Video. This video, "Red Light, Green Light" will provide the general traveling public and the entire transportation community with an increased awareness on the critical importance of intersection safety. This video allows the viewer to identify steps they can take to improve their own safety as well as provide information on what the transportation profession is doing to help create safer intersections. This video is available through the FHWA office of safety for free of charge.

Infrastructure Intersection Collision Avoidance. The Federal Highway Administration has partnered with the Department of Transportations of California, Minnesota, and Virginia to form an Infrastructure Consortium. The Consortium represents the interests of state and local highway transportation agencies in the development and deployment of advanced highway safety technologies. The research effort includes: (1) analysis of crashes and mitigation concepts; (2) development of intersection collision avoidance concepts and algorithms; (3) development of analytical models to assess safety countermeasures; (4) development of infrastructure-based sensors; (5) examination of human factors issues; (6) definition of vehicle infrastructure communication methods; (7) assessment of benefits, costs, and institutional barriers to deployment; and (8) development of in-vehicle systems.

ITE Online Learning Gateway. ITE has developed one course, in a series of courses to follow, on transportation safety. This course, TS02 Safety of Signalized Intersections, was developed as a guided tutorial approach to assist transportation professionals to analyze crash data and identify appropriate countermeasures to reduce the frequency of crashes and the fatalities, personal injury and property damage involved. This course can be accessed on the ITE website, www.ite.org.

Where Do We Go From Here?
The National Agenda for Intersection Safety can be found on the following website: safety.fhwa.dot.gov. Each organization should review the National Agenda and develop its own safety action plans within the next six to 12 months based on needs and available resources. During the November 2001 Intersection Safety Workshop, many individuals made personal and organizational commitments to make certain outcomes (e.g., processes) and outputs (e.g., results) happen that would have the effect of reducing intersection crashes. We will follow up with the individuals on their commitments and track progress made since the Workshop. The Workshop is the springboard for the next phase of the transportation and safety community's efforts to achieve the goal of reducing intersection crashes. Sustained partnerships between the law enforcement, engineering and education professionals will be the key to successful communication and, ultimately, achievement of the goal to reduce intersection crashes.

For more information on the National Agenda for Intersection Safety, including documents that were presented at the Milwaukee, Wisconsin National Intersection Safety Workshop, please contact Hari Kalla, P.E., Transportation Specialist, Office of Safety Design, Federal Highway Administration (hari.kalla@fhwa.dot.gov; 202-366-5915) or Edward R. Stollof, A.I.C.P., Senior Director, Contracts (estollof@ite.org; 202-289-0222, ext. 132) at ITE.

Editor's Note: The following publications are excellent resources in the area of traffic safety: Work Area Traffic Control Handbook (2001); Taking It to the Streets: Information for the Non-Traffic Engineer (2001); Traffic Signing Handbook (1997); and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (2000). Each of these publications can be ordered online at www.apwa.net.