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Arrow Marketing Plan: Road Safety

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I. Traditional Road Safety Reviews vs. RSAs

II. Opportunity and Focus States

III. RSA Experience

IV. RSA Legal Issues

V. RSA Technical Resources

Appendix I

Traditional Road Safety Reviews vs. RSAs

What is the difference between RSA and Traditional Safety Review?
Road Safety Audit Traditional Safety Review
Perform by a team independent of the project The safety review team is usually not completely independent of the design team
Performed by a multi–disciplinary team Typically performed by a team with only design and/or safety expert
Consider all potential road users Often concentrate on motorized traffic
Accounting for road user capabilities and limitations is an essential element of an RSA Safety reviews do not normally consider human factor issues
Always generate a formal RSA report Often does not generate a formal report
A formal response report is an essential element of an RSA Often does not generate a formal response report

Appendix II

Opportunity and Focus States

The 16 Opportunity states are:
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Tennessee
  • Kentucky
  • Illinois
  • Missouri
  • Alabama
  • Texas
  • South Carolina
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Wisconsin
The Focus State and Cities are:
State/City Roadway Departure Intersection Focus State Pedestrian Focus City and/or State
Alabama X X  
Arizona and Phoenix, AZ X X X
Arkansas X    
California and Los Angeles X   X
Colorado X    
Florida X X X
Georgia   X X
Hawaii     X
Indiana   X  
Illinois and Chicago, IL     X
Kentucky X    
Louisiana X X  
Michigan and Detroit, MI   X X
Minnesota   X  
Mississippi X    
Missouri X X  
Montana X    
Nebraska X    
Nevada X    
New Jersey     X
New Mexico X    
New York and New York City     X
North Carolina X X X
Ohio X    
Oklahoma X    
Pennsylvania X   X
South Carolina X X  
Tennessee X X  
Texas X X X
Utah X    
Oklahoma X    
Washington X    
West Virginia X    
Wisconsin   X  
Wyoming X    

Appendix III

RSA Experience

Illinois DOT
A ten-person Road Safety Audit team meets in a conference room to discuss their efforts. On the conference table in front of them is a map showing the route of the highway they are auditing.
FHWA training RSAs to Illinois DOT
Photo credit: ARTBA

The Illinois DOT has completed two RSAs after receiving training from the FHWA. At the close of each RSA, a PowerPoint presentation with corresponding images for each finding was given to the local planning/design staff. Also invited were the area maintenance engineer and local roads engineer. Though not a direct focus of the RSA process, the RSA team believed it worthwhile to share what were described as immediate, low–cost needs that had been observed. This included pointing out the location of a missing stop sign, a high mast to light a ramp that had three of four bulbs burnt Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan A–5 out, tree limbs obscuring signs, damaged guardrail, and signs placed illegally on state right–of–way that hindered sight lines. Overall, the RSA process promises to open the eyes of all involved in transportation to the realities of their choices regarding risk.

Howard County, Maryland

Howard County has utilized RSAs on six different occasions; all entailed existing roadways with persistent collision histories that did not seem to respond to traditional solutions. The fundamental issue discovered in the six RSAs was the lack of institutional memory. Highways built over a long period of time (15 years or more) were found to have differing design speeds between the older and newer sections. In the most recent study, residential streets built over 45 years were found to have been built to different standards when compared to current criteria. The RSA process clarified the steps needed to improve safety in these locations.

Minnesota DOT

A Minnesota District office has used RSAs primarily to review existing locations with severe and challenging safety issues. The RSA process has benefited the District in various ways:

  • Bringing in the RSA team builds department credibility by demonstrating that the District is still trying to find a solution to a challenging problem and is willing to go the distance to bring in an outside expert team.
  • The RSA team brings in a new perspective and may introduce new ideas that had not been previously considered.
  • The RSA report and recommendations can provide the impetus (or tie breaking vote) for the District to take action it was not previously considering, or to take action that the District has already considered, but for various reasons (engineering and political) may have been hesitant or unwilling to implement.
  • The RSA report and suggestions can also substantiate and support an unpopular position the District may have already taken on an issue and possible solutions.
South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization

RSAs have been very well received by local jurisdictions in the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO) area and have identified numerous safety concerns and improvement proposals that otherwise would not have come to light. Several projects identified in these RSAs will shortly move to construction. SJTPO is now in the third year of their program.

Because SJTPO did not have the resources to develop and operate a region–wide, comprehensive safety management system, they began Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan A–6 conducting RSAs for locations of concern. The selection of roads to be audited is done in a rigorous fashion that combines crash data analysis with local experience. Since the recommended improvements emerge from a systematic process that selects the roads to be audited, the FHWA New Jersey Division Office accepts the recommendations as eligible for federal funding.

Both qualitative and quantitative criteria are used in selecting the sites for road safety audits. The SJTPO requests local experts, including engineers, planners, and enforcement officers, to nominate roadway segments that could be improved with quick and inexpensive measures. The nominated road segments initially are selected based on the following qualitative factors:

  • Geographic compactness of corridor (road segments should be compact – 2 or 3 continuous miles)
  • Degree of local control (there should be local control over the site with few state highway intersections within the selected segment)
  • Degree of agency cooperation (cooperation among agencies and governments is important to the success of the project)
  • Potential for safety improvement

Road segments that best meet the qualitative criteria are then screened quantitatively using crash, fatality, and injury data from the New Jersey DOT for the years 2001, 2002, 2003, and the first half of 2004. Database tools are used to identify the crashes for each candidate road segment, including cross streets. The number of crashes is converted to a rate per miles of travel to allow a data–driven ranking of candidate segments. The highest ranked segments are then compared to the averages for each of the four counties to identify RSA candidates with high promise for safety improvement.

The SJTPO retains consultants to audit the selected roadways. Audits consist of three phases: data collection and evaluation, field review, and preparation of the report and findings. The audit process is thorough, and each phase must address predefined requirements. The final report summarizes the findings of the inspection and describes recommended improvements.

Generally, an RSA is conducted each year for a roadway segment within each of SJTPO's four counties. Project development work also is commissioned for high–priority improvements identified from previous audits. Depending on the types and costs of recommended improvements, projects can be either programmed for federal authorization in the following fiscal year or handled by the sponsoring agency with their own funds. Many improvements, such as sign replacement, striping, and clear zone maintenance, can be prioritized within existing maintenance budgets, whereas large–scale, complex improvements, such as intersection reconstruction or the addition of turn lanes, must be assigned to a regional project pool for prioritization and eventual implementation.

Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan A–7 In 2004, FHWA's New Jersey Division and the New Jersey DOT agreed to reserve $1 million annually for each of New Jersey's three MPOs for transportation system capital improvements. The SJTPO reserves up to $100,000 of planning funds each year to conduct RSAs of local roadway segments or intersections following the selection process outlined above. They also program up to $50,000 per year for consultant assistance in developing construction plans and permitting information, obtaining survey data, and developing other materials necessary to obtain Federal authorization. This assistance enables county and municipal project sponsors to accelerate project delivery, which is in keeping with the goal of quickly implementing low–cost safety improvements. Also, as a Transportation Management Area, SJTPO has access to a sub allocation of Surface Transportation Program funds.

FHWA and the Roadway Safety Foundation recently selected SJTPO for a National Roadway Safety Award, and to date, over $1.5 million in safety projects are complete or under construction on local roadways in the SJTPO area as a result of the Road Safety Audit Program.

Collier County, Florida

Collier County decided to start an RSA program because of their high population of vacationers, seasonal residents, and older road users. They believe it is absolutely imperative that, as transportation professionals, they constantly review and improve the safety of their roadway systems. Collier County Transportation Services took part in the FHWA RSA case study program. The FHWA RSA Case Studies document will include the RSA conducted on the Immokalee Road corridor. The County hosted an RSA workshop in cooperation with FHWA to help introduce the RSA program for use in Southwest Florida. Collier County Transportation Services will be performing RSAs on the existing Golden Gate Parkway and Collier Boulevard intersection and the 60 percent design plans for the Collier Boulevard four–lane to six–lane capacity improvement project. Collier County believes if they can save one life in an intersection or improve safety through design revisions, the time and cost invested in the RSA will be well justified. They hope that performing RSAs and improving their corridor safety will demonstrate their commitment to the public and their dedication to set a new standard in safety.

RSA Technical Resources

Four people on a Road Safety Audit team are having a discussion of their work. They are standing in a parking lot, behind one of the parked cars.
Collier County starts RSAs program
Photo credit: ARTBA

The implementation of this marketing plan will be two–pronged. The RSA Implementation Team (and FHWA Resource Center) will be working directly with the aforementioned primary customers to help them pilot and eventually institutionalize RSAs into their safety programs through presentations, training, technical assistance, and conducting RSAs. Concurrently, the FHWA Office of Safety is developing tools to assist the team and customers in facilitating the adoption of RSAs.

Iowa DOT

Iowa DOT is conducting RSAs as part of their 3R program. A big benefit they have gained from conducting RSA is creating the awareness of staff of the benefits of low–cost safety improvements. A few years ago, Iowa DOT went from the central office planning and designing these projects to the Districts doing the work. At the beginning, the District staff was reluctant to making safety improvements with 3R projects, but after participating in a training course and Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan A–8 experiencing some RSAs, the Districts are recommending improvements to the Iowa DOT Central Office of Safety. The Districts have really bought into RSAs. Iowa DOT's Central Office of Safety believes that incorporating low–cost safety improvements into 3R projects will result in a much higher benefit/cost ratio as compared to spending larger amounts of safety funds at isolated intersections.

Another benefit to RSAs is that it helps Iowa DOT keep their institutional knowledge. They have had three early retirement packages and are losing their more experienced people. Including newer engineering staff with experienced engineering staff on RSA teams helps bridge the gaps and becomes a very educational experience.

If hadn't been for RSAs, Iowa would have missed a great opportunity to implement the rumble "stripe" countermeasure. Iowa DOT was conducting a RSA in a DOT District in Iowa and reviewed a narrow two–lane roadway that was programmed for resurfacing. The road had a pretty high rate of roadway departure injuries and fatalities. The District planned to pave the entire road top and stripe 12–ft lanes, which would have left them with little or no shoulder. An RSA team member informed them of the research that shows that the safety of a roadway is degraded when the speeds go up after resurfacing and recommended they consider the rumble stripe concept. Iowa DOT ended up going with that approach, placing 11–ft lanes and having 2 ½ ft of paved shoulder with the edgeline in the rumble strip. This was completed in June 2005.

Clark County, Washington

Clark County participated in the FHWA RSA Case Studies project. The project selected for the RSA was improvements to Ward Road, a two–lane rural roadway, initially motivated by safety concerns resulting from high–severity off road collisions. Subsequently, the County's Growth Management Act (1995) resulted in anticipated changes to the road network and hierarchy in the vicinity of the planned improvements, which resulted in the introduction of additional elements to the upgrades. The road improvements were the subject of considerable public interest and input, which had also influenced the design.

The planned improvements affected three roads: Ward Road (also known as 182nd Avenue), 172nd Avenue, and 119th Street. In addition to functioning as major rural collectors, these roads provided access to adjacent properties (residential and farm) and a small farming town.

At the time of the RSA, the improvements were in the County's current Transportation Improvement Program, and were in the final design stage. Overall construction costs were estimated at about $9 million, including land acquisition costs.

Discussions with County staff indicated that, although improvements to Ward Road were initially proposed primarily to address high–severity off–road collisions, additional issues arose during the lengthy public consultation process concerning the level of traffic considered by different community groups to be Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan A–9 suitable on the improved roads. To reconcile the competing desires of these groups, and to provide a forum for the groups to contribute beyond the public consultation stage to the actual design, a Community Design Team (CDT) was established that included representatives of the adjacent communities.

The design that was adopted to meet the requirements of the CDT appeared to have expanded beyond the initial safety–related aim of reducing collisions, to include two additional (and potentially competing) aims of controlling traffic speeds by increasing the number of controlled intersections through which traffic would pass, and achieving a redistribution of traffic that the CDT deemed equitable. Although the County's efforts to include the public in the design process were in many ways laudable, the resulting reconfiguration of intersections and introduction of new traffic control devices was expected to compromise traffic safety by introducing additional conflict points. The RSA team felt it necessary to point out that that net result of directing formerly free flowing traffic through controlled intersections was expected to be decreased severity, but increased frequency, of collisions compared with existing conditions. As a result of the RSA, County engineering staff started a reexamination of major elements of the project, which they expected would lead to a safer project at considerably less expense.

Appendix IV

RSA Legal Issues4

Some state and local agencies have been hesitant to conduct RSAs due to a fear that RSA reports will be used against them in tort liability lawsuits. Tort liability at the state and local level is a matter that is decided in accordance with state law and jurisprudence (court decisions).

A survey of state DOTs was conducted as part of NCHRP Synthesis project #336, Road Safety Audits. The survey asked questions about states' sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is the doctrine that government agencies are immune to lawsuits unless they give their consent to the lawsuit. A summary of the information in the synthesis follows.

There appeared to be no specific trend in applying RSAs (to new projects or to existing roads) and whether or not the state had sovereign immunity. Two states implementing RSAs indicated full immunity, and three indicated partial immunity. For states that use RSAs (in the design stage or on existing roads but not both), two indicated full immunity, four had partial immunity, and four had no immunity.

The same survey also received this response related to liability: "Liability is one of the major driving factors in performing a good audit; it demonstrates a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating safety concerns. When findings cannot be implemented an exception report is developed to address liability and mitigating measures. Our attorneys say that once safety issues are identified, and we have financial limitations on how much and how fast we can correct the issues, then the audit will help us in defense of liability."

In the case of Kansas DOT, the RSA program was implemented to be proactive in identifying and fixing safety issues. The results of RSAs are for internal staff use only and are not available to the public or to lawyers representing claims against the state. There have been instances where these records were requested by outside legal counsel and to date, the information has remained at KDOT. The only instance where a RSA report was released was in a case where the state was being sued but the claim did not ask for any money. (Public disclosure laws require release of this information in many states. However, some states do not allow information gathered under public disclosure laws to be used in lawsuits.)

The Iowa DOT has had no instances of RSA records being requested or used in court by outside legal counsel. In both cases above, these states have successfully implemented RSA programs, which significantly improve the safety along public agency roads and assist in decision–making agency wide. Federal law affords evidentiary and discovery protections that assist state and local highway agencies in keeping data and reports compiled or collected pursuant to various federal safety improvement programs from being used in tort liability actions. However, federal law does not protect data and reports from Freedom of Information Act requests.

The Highway Safety Act of 1973 was enacted to improve the safety of our nation's highways by encouraging closer federal and state cooperation with respect to road safety improvement projects. The Act included several categorical programs to assist states in identifying highways in need of improvements and in funding these improvements, including 23 U.S.C. § 152 (Hazard Elimination Program, "Section 152").i States objected to the absence of any confidentiality with respect to their compliance measures under Section 152, fearing that any information collected could be used as an effort–free tool in litigation against governments.

23 U.S.C. § 409 ("Section 409") was enacted to address this concern. This law expressly forbids the discovery or admission into evidence of reports, data, or other information compiled or collected for activities required pursuant to several federal highway safety programs [including Sections 130, and 152 (now 148)] or for the purpose of developing any highway safety construction improvement project, in tort litigation arising from occurrences at the locations addressed in such documents or data.ii In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of Section 409, indicating that it "protects all reports, surveys, schedules, lists, or data actually compiled or collected for § 152 Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan A–11 purposes" (emphasis on original).iii Some states consider information covered by Section 409 as an exemption to its public disclosure laws, but courts may not agree with this interpretation.iv

Another approach could be to use RSA reports in tort liability suits to show the courts that the state or local agency is proactively trying to improve safety. Many litigants and their lawyers will hire an expert witness to conduct their own safety review of the location in question. The RSA report can be used to refute or counter the expert witness's report and to show the public agency's efforts at improving safety in that location. It is important to have a response to the RSA report in the file to show how the agency plans to incorporate the suggestions or why the RSA report suggestions will not be implemented.

4The information provided here is not legal advice, but is meant to assist public agencies in discussions with their attorneys on developing a policy for the implementation of RSAs.


I. Under the Surface Transportation Act of 1978, these categorical programs were merged into the Rail Highway Crossing program (23 U.S.C. 130) and the Hazard Elimination Program (23 U.S.C. 152). To be eligible for funds under Section 152, a state or local government must "conduct and systematically maintain an engineering survey of all public roads to identify hazardous locations, sections, and elements, including roadside obstacles and unmarked or poorly marked roads, which may constitute a danger to motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians, assign priorities for the correction of such locations, sections, and elements, and establish and implement a schedule of projects for their improvement." The recently enacted section 1401 of SAFETEA–LU (Pub. L. 109– 59, August 10, 2005) establishes a new Highway Safety Improvement Program in 23 U.S.C. § 148, which incorporates the elements of section 152 and which will be the source of funding for the activities eligible under that section. As a result of this provision of SAFETEA–LU, 23 U.S.C. § 409, cited in the next footnote, now references section 148, not section 152. Because activities eligible under section 152 will be funded under section 148, they will continue to be protected pursuant to section 409.

II. Section 409 in its entirety states "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, reports, surveys, schedules, lists, or data compiled or collected for the purpose of identifying, evaluating, or planning the safety enhancement of potential accident sites, hazardous roadway conditions, or railway–highway crossings, pursuant to sections 130, 144, and 148 [152] of this title or for the purpose of developing any highway safety construction improvement project which may be implemented utilizing Federal–aid highway funds shall not be subject to discovery or admitted into evidence in a Federal or State court proceeding or considered for other purposes in any action for damages arising from any occurrence at a location mentioned or addressed in such reports, surveys, schedules, lists, or data."

III. Pierce County, Washington v. Guillen, 537 U.S. 129 (2003).

IV. The New York Supreme Court recently held that 409 protects only from requests in litigation and, thus, does not create a public records exemption in New York. See Newsday v. State DOT, Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department (July 1, 2004).

Appendix V

RSA Technical Resources

There are a number of technical resources developed or under development for use by practitioners wishing to learn more about RSAs. These resources are discussed briefly below. For more detailed information, please contact John Dewar in FHWA's Office of Safety Programs at

RSA Guideline and Prompt Lists

The primary purpose of these guidelines is to provide a foundation for public agencies and tribal governments to draw upon when developing their own RSA policies and procedures and when conducting RSAs within their jurisdiction. These guidelines were developed by building upon experiences gained in the United States and in other countries. They are meant to present basic RSA principles, to encourage public agencies to implement road safety audits, and to embrace them as part of their everyday practice.

These guidelines are intended to provide information on road safety audits to policy makers, RSA teams, designers, planners, operations and safety analysts, project managers and clients and the general public. They are intended to promote awareness of road safety audits in terms of: societal benefits; principles, procedures, roles and responsibilities; qualifications of the audit teams; project cost and schedule implications; guidelines for selecting projects to audit; and tools, methods and resources available.

The guidelines are divided into three main sections. Part A provides general information on RSAs, information on how to implement an RSA program, and an overview of the RSA process. Part B describes the stages of an RSA and different types of audits, including preliminary design, detailed design, construction, pre–opening, and audits of existing roads. Part C describes RSA tools, namely prompt lists, and when and how to use them. Following the body of the guidelines, appendices that discuss approaches to road safety and the evolution of RSAs are provided. Several case studies are also provided, and a bibliography is included.

High–level and detailed prompt lists have been developed and may be used by RSA teams and designers. RSA prompt lists, even the most detailed ones, should be viewed as a prompt only. They are not a substitute for knowledge and experience; rather, they are an aid in the application of knowledge and experience. The RSA prompt lists are not all–inclusive, nor will they cover all potential issues and circumstances. Prompt lists can be downloaded from the FHWA Website at:

RSA Software

A software tool for assisting the completion of RSAs has also been developed. The software facilitates team members in the collection of information as they proceed through the RSA process. It gives users access to comprehensive prompt lists and reduces the potential for users to simply "check" issues off a list. The prompt lists are comprehensive, helping users to identify issues that may be overlooked in the RSA process. They are presented in levels that users can drill into to get broad or detailed level prompts. With the software, users can link identified issues to user–defined locations in the study area and they can also provide accompanying comments with each issue. It also allows users to record suggestions for improvements that may be identified. Finally, Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan A–13 output from the RSA software group's findings, by issue, and exports the results to a Word compatible file that allows for quick completion of a formal RSA report.

RSA Case Studies

To demonstrate the effectiveness of RSAs, in December 2003 the FHWA Office of Safety sponsored an RSA of the Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The RSA team reviewed the detailed design for an $800 million interchange reconstruction project. Subsequently, in the summer of 2004, the FHWA Office of Safety commissioned a series of nine additional RSAs. Between 2004 and 2006, RSAs were conducted with the following agencies: Illinois DOT, Oklahoma DOT, Oregon DOT, Wisconsin DOT, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, City of Cincinnati, City of Tucson, Clark County (WA), Collier County (FL), and the National Park Service. The aim of these case studies was to demonstrate the usefulness and effectiveness of RSAs for a variety of projects, project stages, and in a variety of agencies throughout the United States.

Each case study includes photographs, a project description, a summary of key findings, and the lessons learned. The aim of this document is to provide state and local agencies and tribal governments with examples and advice that can assist them in implementing RSAs in their own jurisdictions.

RSA for Locals Training Course

The Road Safety Audits for Local Governments workshop is designed to introduce road safety audits as an effective tool that can help to reduce injuries and fatalities on local road networks. The workshop will help local road agency professionals understand basic road safety audit concepts, risk and safety, and common issues.

Agencies interested in scheduling a training course should contact Eloisa Raynault at or phone: 202–366–3499.

RSA Training

NHI RSA Course


Course Title: Road Safety Audits and Road Safety Audit Reviews

Length 2 Days CEU: 1.2 Units
FEE: $270 Per Participant
CLASS SIZE: Minimum: 20; Maximum: 30

Description: Performing effective road safety audits (RSAs) and road safety audit reviews (RSARs) improves safety and demonstrates to the public an agency's dedication to accident reduction. This course provides practical information on how to conduct a road safety audit. Participants learn how to improve transportation safety by applying a new proactive approach to RSAs and RSARs. This approach includes Road Safety Audit Marketing Plan A–14 examination of a future or existing roadway by an independent, qualified audit team.

The course includes hands–on application of the training materials, which include information on the history and definition of RSAs, the importance of safety, the stages of a road safety audit, how to conduct a road safety audit, easy–to–use–checklists, and legal considerations. A copy of "Road Safety Audits and Road Safety Audit Reviews Reference Manual" is provided.

Outcomes: Upon completion of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Express the road safety audit process terminology
  • Perform a simple road safety audit, as a member of a team
  • Assess the benefits of a road safety audit on a statewide basis

Target Audience: Federal, State, and local transportation personnel who are likely to serve on a road safety audit team. Consultants who conduct highway safety studies should also attend.

Course Scheduling: NHI Training Team (703) 235–0534

RSA Peer–To–Peer Program

Technical or procedural questions often arise before and during an RSA. To provide assistance to agencies considering or actively conducting RSAs, FHWA's Office of Safety has established a Peer–to–Peer (P2P) program. The RSA P2P program is provided at no cost to state, local and tribal transportation agencies, and it is easy to access the support of a knowledgeable peer.

An agency can request assistance either by email or by calling the toll–free number describing their needs to the FHWA–sponsored P2P coordinator. The coordinator will match the agency with a transportation professional that is experienced and knowledgeable in RSAs, including expertise with particular issues or types of RSAs.

The matched peer will then contact the agency to work out the details of the assistance to be provided within the program framework, which can include a site visit as needed.

To contact the Road Safety Audit Peer–to–Peer Program, call (866) P2PFHWA or email:

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Scott Wolf
Center for Accelerating Innovation

This page last modified on 04/04/11

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