Dramatic results from cost-effective rural road safety assessment program

Gib Peaslee
LTAP/TTAP Program Manager
Federal Highway Administration
Arlington, Virginia

Rural roads account for about 60 percent of all fatal crashes, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Many small secondary roads were originally built to follow property lines, which contributes to an array of road curves that are not up to today's design codes. Many have no shoulders, centerline stripes or edge markings, and many curves begin with one radius and end with another. Given these conditions, plus economic constraints that severely limit reconstruction, correct sign placement is the most effective strategy to save lives at a cost that almost any jurisdiction can afford.

Mendocino County, California, has demonstrated just how effective signs are as a low-cost measure. In a landmark, low-tech program, the Mendocino County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) reduced its crashes since 1988 by 42.1 percent, or about $299 in savings for every dollar invested using California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) formulae.

A Ball Bank Indicator and Distance Measuring Machine are mounted on the dash in the line of sight.

Smaller, rural jurisdictions face not only the financial realities of, and the political and professional risk involved in, implementing technologies or processes where real-time peer experiences do not exist. For that reason, Federal Highway Administration's Office of Safety has produced training based on the Mendocino Roadway Safety Assessment experience. This training is available to every local jurisdiction through state Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) and is designed to prepare management, staff and field crews in building sustainable roadway safety programs for their respective communities.

Included in this training are field experiences to address key situations and hands-on user instruction with Ball Bank Indicators and Distance Measuring Machines. The instruction is designed to work with each jurisdiction field team until they can manage this safety project on their own. In time, the LTAP Center can provide the following software in support of the community's safety effort:

  • Local Agency Crash Analysis Using RoadSoft
  • GIS developed and supported by the Michigan LTAP
  • LTAP Sign Inventory Management System (SIMS) developed and supported by the New Hampshire LTAP
  • Transportation Asset Management Software developed and supported by the Utah LTAP

Jurisdictions can start with as few as one or two roads, and slowly add more roads to the system. A given jurisdiction's schedule will depend on available time and personnel, geographic extent and number of road miles, but the bottom line is that jurisdictions serious about saving lives no longer have to wait. Tools are available now. To find your local LTAP Center, contact your APWA chapter representative or visit www.ltapt2.org.

Gib Peaslee can be reached at (703) 235-0532 or gib.peaslee@fhwa.dot.gov.

Road Safety Audits
A road safety audit is a formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent team. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) Technology Implementation Group (TIG) recently approved road safety audits as a focus technology.

In partnership with AASHTO TIG, FHWA Office of Safety includes road safety audits on its list of Priority Technologies and Innovations. For more information, visit http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/rsa.