Skip to contentUnited States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway AdministrationSearch FHWAFeedback
Highways for LIFE

Arrow Marketing Plan: Road Safety

<<Back Contents Next >>

Corporate Philosophy

The highway community as a whole, and the FHWA in particular, has been seeking out and evaluating innovative solutions to highway safety challenges. Each year, teams of engineers, planners, and other professionals scan the globe, looking for potential innovations to improve highway facilities. In 1996, a team visited Australia and New Zealand to learn about the RSA process and interview officials undertaking and overseeing RSA programs in their countries. The result of those trips was an increase in understanding of how the process could benefit the safety of the nation's highway system. A lack of innovation has not been the problem; rather, the challenge has been in getting those innovations moved from state–of–the–art to state–of–the–practice.

Pennsylvania DOT has found that RSAs are a valuable, low–cost tool that enhances the safety of a project by providing unbiased early recommendations for the project based on safety and multimodal needs. We intend to make RSAs an easily and frequently used tool in the design process.

–Girish (Gary) N. Modi, P.E. Chief, Safety Management Division Bureau of Highway Safety and Transportation Engineering Pennsylvania DOT

In 2002, the national highway fatality rate was 1.5 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta established a goal to reduce that number to 1.0 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travel traveled by 2008. Approximately 9,000 lives would be saved each year.

In announcing his goal to reduce fatalities, Secretary Mineta made it clear that "there's not one silver bullet that will drive the fatality rate down." Major improvements in highway safety require a comprehensive and coordinated approach that addresses drivers response, vehicle design, and the roadway itself. RSAs are a comprehensive tool that can address driver behavior as well as the roadway. The Strategic Highway Safety Plans (SHSPs) or Comprehensive Highway Safety Plans (CHSPs) that are now required by law to be developed by each state are an avenue to adopt RSAs statewide and address safety in a strategic fashion.

The FHWA has the overall lead in engaging highway agencies to improve the safety of the nation's roadways, and it has identified safety as a priority among the "vital few" focus areas targeted for greater attention and resources. To achieve the Department's safety goal, the FHWA is committed to and reliant upon working with other federal, state, territory, local, and tribal governments to improve the safety of America's roadways and roadsides through a collaborative and comprehensive approach to safety.

RSA Mission and Program Goals

As mentioned previously, the mission of the FHWA RSA program is to contribute to the overall FHWA and national goals to proactively reduce deaths and injuries on our nation's roadways while providing a long–term value–added Pennsylvania DOT has found that RSAs are a valuable, low–cost tool that enhances the safety of a project by providing unbiased early recommendations for the project based on safety and multimodal needs. We intend to make RSAs an easily and frequently used tool in the design process. –Girish (Gary) N. Modi, P.E. Chief, Safety Management Division Bureau of Highway Safety and Transportation Engineering Pennsylvania DOT Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan 5 tool to the highway community. The FHWA is working toward the goals listed below to help reduce the U.S. fatality rate to 1.0 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.


  • From fiscal year (FY) 2007 to FY2012, at least one RSA will be conducted per year by each of the three Division Offices of the FHWA's Federal Lands Highway Program.
  • By 2008, training courses on RSAs will have occurred in all of the Opportunity and Focus states.2
  • By 2010, RSAs will be documented in all strategic highway safety plans.
  • By 2012, RSAs will be considered on all projects that qualify for safety funding as determined by the agency's prioritization process. Generally, a national average of 10 RSAs will be performed in each state every year.

Product Analysis

We view the RSAs as a proactive low–cost approach to improve safety. The RSAs helped our engineering team develop a number of solutions incorporating measures that were not originally included in the projects. The very first audit conducted saved SCDOT thousands of dollars by correcting a design problem.

–Terecia Wilson Director of Safety South Carolina Department of Transportation

RSAs are not a technology, but rather a process to follow to help identify potential safety issues that can then be solved by new technology or traditional traffic safety tools, hardware, and traffic control devices. Many times, low cost safety improvements can be used to alleviate the safety issues identified. RSAs can be used in any phase of project development, including planning, preliminary design, detailed design, traffic control planning, construction, preopening, and on existing roads. RSAs also can be used on any sized project, from minor intersection and roadway retrofits to mega–projects.

Below is a diagram illustrating the steps in an RSA process. The project owner is the representative of management of the agency that initiates the RSA.

2 Sixteen states, each with a fatality rate above the national average of 1.5, or with a fatality improvement trend over the past 5 years below that of the national average, were identified in 2003 as opportunities for comprehensive safety improvements and are called "Opportunity states." FHWA also identified several "Focus" states and cities, defined as those with the greatest challenges in the FHWA focus areas of roadway departure, intersection, and pedestrian fatalities. Focus states and cities have a fatality rate above the national average and/or are above a fatality number threshold for that category of crash.

An RSA team is proactive by trying to anticipate traffic conflicts and potential for crashes. RSA teams are multidisciplinary, and the people on the team vary depending on the review stage and scope of the RSA. A human factors expert sometimes is included on RSA teams, along with experts for all road users (including bicyclists, pedestrians, older road users, truckers, law enforcement, and emergency personnel). The teams are independent of the design of a new facility or the reconstruction of the existing facility. RSA teams perform several field reviews during different times of the day and a night field review to see the changes that could affect safety during periods of increased vehicular or pedestrian traffic or darkness. If available, RSA teams use existing crash data as another input to their safety examination. RSA teams sometimes use a checklist or prompt list to ensure they cover all the main areas of potential concern. A sample prompt list is included in the FHWA RSA Guidelines document.

Although concerns have been raised that the use of RSAs would increase an agency's liability, just the opposite may be true. Proactively implementing a plan Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan 7 to reduce crash potential and improve the safety performance of a roadway should be used in defense against lawsuits. This is particularly true of RSAs performed in the early stages of a project. Identifying and documenting safety issues on an existing roadway is not an admission of guilt; rather, it is the first step in a process designed to improve safety. Proper documentation, communication, and logical prioritization of an agency's plan to address safety issues identified in the RSA would be difficult to fault. For more information on legal issues, see the RSA Legal Issues appendix at the end of this document and consult with an attorney.

The keys to success in implementing an RSA program are:

  • Agency support and willingness to incorporate audit findings
  • Small, multidisciplinary audit team consisting of three to five people (may include highway/traffic safety, traffic engineering, planning, operations, geometric design, construction, maintenance, human factors, and enforcement)
  • Audit conducted at the earliest possible stage of project development
  • Willingness to investigate new ideas outside the traditional scope of work

Cost and Benefits of RSAs

Approximate direct and indirect costs and benefits of adopting RSAs are detailed below:

1. Costs for implementing the RSA, if a consultant is used:

  • $6–10K for consultant
  • 50–60 agency staff hours

2. Costs for implementing improvements will vary depending on the nature and scope of the suggested improvements.

I believe that road safety audits are an excellent tool for evaluating and improving the safety of our highway system. In the projects we've done, we've seen the most benefit in doing an audit during conceptual and preliminary design, when any improvements can be incorporated into our project estimates and final design.

–Beth Wright District Engineer Missouri DOT

3. Benefits – Safety benefits of various countermeasures are known (crash reduction factors, accident modification factors) and can be converted to dollars.

4. Benefits – RSAs are a way for an agency to improve safety and communicate to the public how an agency is working towards reducing crashes.

Evaluation of RSAs in the U.S. has been very limited. Below are details from RSAs conducted in South Carolina and Michigan. Additionally, AUSTROADS (the federal road authority in Australia) has found very positive benefit cost ratios on their RSAs.

The South Carolina DOT has conducted six RSAs since 2003. In one case, a Spartanburg County road audited in 2003, SC–296, saw a 23.4 percent reduction in crashes in 2004. Twenty–five of the 37 safety recommendations were adopted. All nine suggested safety improvements resulting from an RSA of SC–14 in Greenville County were implemented. This site saw a reduction of 60 percent in fatalities from 2003 to 2004, which equates to an estimated savings of $3,660,000. The DOT acknowledges these results are preliminary, but the numbers appear very promising.

AAA Michigan conducted RSAs on 35 intersections in Detroit. Collectively, these intersections experienced a 56 percent decrease in injury collisions. The economic evaluation (in terms of societal costs) for the Detroit intersections is summarized below:

  • Overall, the net present value of the Detroit improvements is $4,792,000 (2–year life cycle) or $33,720,000 (15–year life cycle).
  • A total of 22 intersections (or 65 percent) exceeded a benefit/cost ratio (B/C) of 2:1 in 2 years.
  • A total of 33 intersections (or 97 percent) exceeded a B/C of 2:1 in 15 years.
  • A total of 32 intersections (or 94 percent) reported a positive net present value (benefits) over 2 years.

Funding for RSAs

Federal–Aid funds can be used to conduct RSAs as part of preliminary engineering during project development. Federal–Aid funds can also be used to implement improvements from RSAs. Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funds can be used to conduct RSAs on existing roads and intersections.

Engineering services, such as RSAs, have always been eligible as part of a Federal–aid project under the broad Title 23 definitions of construction and projects. Section 112 of Title 23 allows the state to contract for these design/engineering services. Additionally, engineering services were an eligible expense under the previous Hazardous Elimination Safety program, and they remain an eligible expense under the new core HSIP program. Considering the respective provisions outlined in the law, HSIP funds, including the set–aside programs (High Risk Rural Roads and Railway–Highway Crossings), may be used to implement eligible countermeasures suggested in RSA reports.

The FHWA South Dakota Division Office is working with the South Dakota DOT to develop a policy where some of their safety money is earmarked to fund improvements identified by an RSA. The DOT tentatively has budgeted $250,000 for the year 2006 and $500,000 for 2007. There is great potential for conducting more RSAs once the availability of funding for these proactive safety improvements is known.

Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan 9 Metropolitan Planning Organizations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have used and are using planning funds to conduct RSAs. See the appendices for more details.

<<Back Contents Next >>

More Information



Scott Wolf
Center for Accelerating Innovation

This page last modified on 04/04/11

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration