Skip to contentUnited States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration FHWA Home
Research Home
Public Roads
Featuring developments in Federal highway policies, programs, and research and technology.
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 65· No. 5 > National Review of the Highway Safety Improvement Program

March/April 2002
Vol. 65· No. 5

National Review of the Highway Safety Improvement Program

by Kenneth Epstein, Gary Corino, and Donald Neumann

Safety is a critical part of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) mission, and so, FHWA has established a strategic goal to continually improve highway safety.

The agency is committed to reducing highway-related fatalities and serious injuries by 20 percent by the year 2008. An effective Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) is a major component for improving highway safety through the implementation of improvements at locations with known and potential crash problems.

Each state is required to develop and implement, on a continuing basis, a highway safety improvement program that has the overall objectives of reducing the number and severity of crashes and decreasing the potential for crashes on all highways. HSIP requirements have been established in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 23, Part 924 (23 CFR 924), and include components for planning, implementation, and evaluation of safety programs and projects. These components consist of processes developed by the states and approved by FHWA.

Between February and April 2001, a national review was conducted of highway safety improvement programs in six states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Oregon. The primary purpose of this review was to document the best, unique practices of each state. These states were selected on the basis of their size, their outstanding HSIPs, and their location, providing a geographical balance. This review was conducted by a team from FHWA that included representatives of the Safety Core Business Unit and the Corporate Management Service Business Unit from FHWA headquarters and the FHWA division offices in the reviewed states.

The review findings are based on interviews and observations. Interviews were conducted with senior managers and safety specialists from the FHWA divisions and state highway agencies responsible for the HSIP. The interviews focused primarily on the processes being used to plan, implement, and evaluate the HSIP in that state. People in all of the states were very eager to demonstrate various innovative and effective safety programs, processes, activities, and technologies.

Several safety programs fall under the umbrella of the HSIP. The most notable of these are the Highway-Rail Grade Crossings Program and Hazard Elimination Program. These programs were established by the Highway Safety Act of 1973 to reduce the number and severity of highway-related crashes, and the requirements of the Highway-Rail Grade Crossings and Hazard Elimination programs are defined in sections 130 and 152, respectively, of Title 23, United States Code. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) incorporated these highway safety programs into the Surface Transportation Program (STP). Ten percent of the STP funds are set aside for carrying out sections 130 and 152.

The Highway-Rail Grade Crossings Program is intended to reduce the number and severity of train collisions with vehicles and pedestrians. All public highway-rail crossing safety improvements are eligible for federal funding. Typical projects include the improvement of the crossing surface and the installation of lights, gates, signs, and markings.

The Hazard Elimination Program is intended to make the hazardous locations, sections, and elements on any public road safer. Typical projects include intersection improvements; pavement and shoulder widening; guardrail and barrier improvements; breakaway utility poles and sign supports; pavement grooving and skid-resistant overlays; shoulder rumble strips; minor structural replacements or modifications; and signing and pavement markings.


The review team found numerous noteworthy activities related to the HSIP and safety in general, and it was apparent that there is more than one means for carrying out a highway safety improvement program. Each state has tailored its program to its unique needs. Effective safety programs must take into account existing strengths and weaknesses.

The team used the following definition from the Chevron Corp. to identify a "best practice": A best practice is any practice, knowledge, know-how, or experience that has proven to be valuable or effective in one organization and that may have applicability to other organizations.

Common Elements

Although each state's safety program is unique, there are common elements that contribute to program effectiveness. These elements are:

  • The establishment of safety as a major goal of the agency and the commitment of the highest officials. In several of the states visited, the governor played an active role in promoting safety. In one state, the review team met with the new state secretary of transportation, who reiterated the commitment that he shares with the governor to improve safety.
  • A good multidisciplinary safety management process with a strong component for roadway safety. ISTEA required the states to implement a highway safety management system, which is a systematic process to reduce the number and severity of traffic crashes by ensuring that all opportunities to improve highway safety are identified; considered; implemented as appropriate; and evaluated in all phases of highway planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation and by providing information for selecting and implementing effective highway safety strategies and projects. The National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 made the safety management system and most other mandated management systems optional. However, many states have retained their safety management systems, and the systems observed in the states visited were highly effective. Having a good system provides a focus on safety and enables the various disciplines to work together to comprehensively address highway safety problems. Iowa, in particular, has an excellent system.
  • Emphasis on safety in all projects. Although much of the emphasis has been on remedial efforts, highway safety enhancements have been implemented in conjunction with new or with other roadway improvement projects — not just hazard elimination or highway-rail crossing projects. For example, Oregon emphasizes safety on preservation projects by providing additional funding to implement safety enhancements. Under the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), safety must be incorporated as part of the state and metropolitan transportation planning processes. States with good safety management processes routinely operate in this manner.
  • A designated safety division or a safety engineer/coordinator within the state DOT. This office or coordinator provides a focal point for safety and the coordination necessary for an effective safety program.
  • A designated safety section or safety engineer/coordinator in each regional office of the state DOT. For the larger states with regional structures, the office or coordinator in each regional office further ensures that safety is adequately addressed in all regional activities from planning through maintenance.
  • Community-based traffic safety programs. Such programs help to elevate the importance of safety at the community level and provide "buy in" by local units of government and the public. These programs ensure that safety is addressed on the most dangerous parts of the highway system —local streets and minor collectors.
  • Efforts to assist localities. Many local agencies do not have staff solely dedicated to highway safety and, therefore, may not have the expertise to address their highway safety problems and needs. The states have established programs to address this need. They include Connecticut's Accident Reduction Program, Iowa's Traffic Engineering Assistance Program, The Roadway Analysis Program for Fatal and Injury Countermeasures in Ohio, and Oregon's Safety Corridors Program.
  • Use of current technologies. These technologies, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), photo logging, and web-based systems, help to provide more timely and accurate information, especially in the areas of data collection and analysis. GIS is a particularly effective tool and is being used extensively by some states, including Oregon.
  • A Traffic Records Coordinating Committee. This committee helps to ensure the timeliness, accuracy, and linkage of data and to avoid a duplication of effort. It brings together key players in the safety field, including people who provide engineering, enforcement, and emergency medical services.
Photo of accident at an intersection
Red-light-running is a very significant safety problem.

HSIP Best Practices

The following best practices are related specifically to the HSIP:

  • Systematic and well-documented processes.
  • Timely and accurate crash data. This is critical for determining where efforts should be focused. Considerable efforts are being made to reduce the period of time — often six months or more — between when a crash occurs and when the data are available for use in an automated system and to more accurately record the crash location. Delaware has been able to reduce this time to 30 to 60 days.
  • Selection of hazardous locations for corrective action. While there were a number of variations of the factors used to select the hazardous locations, the most common factors are crash frequency, rate, and severity.

Best Practices for Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

For programs related to highway-rail grade crossings, the following were among the best practices observed:

  • Efforts to implement projects more quickly.
  • Incentives to close crossings. Ohio has had significant success in doing this.
  • Public information campaigns. These campaigns, including Operation Lifesaver, are designed to enhance public awareness about the potential dangers at highway-rail grade crossings, thereby reducing collisions at these crossings.

Best Practices in Connecticut

In Connecticut, engineering studies are given major emphasis. A field investigation is made of all sites being considered for remedial treatment. There is also coordination with local agencies.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) has established a financial management process that helps to expedite the implementation of projects. The staff people responsible for the implementation of roadway, bridge, and safety projects are assigned to the Bureau of Engineering and Operations and have backgrounds in both engineering and finance.

ConnDOT's photo logging system is a high-quality system that is easy to use. All data is linked to one referencing system. The system produces a variety of engineering-related data and reports. It is used extensively by ConnDOT, other state agencies, and universities.

Best Practices in Delaware

Safety is the highest priority of the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), and the Delaware Secretary of Transportation is a champion for safety.

Delaware's HSIP consists of good, systematic, and timely processes that are closely followed. These processes are institutionalized and stable, which helps to expedite project development. Throughout the process to construction, they emphasize consensus-building, both internally and externally.

DelDOT makes a major effort to involve the public. Its use of large, high-quality photographs helps to ensure an understanding the improvement.

An intranet project tracking system for safety projects has been developed and is available to the entire DOT. This system is up-to-date and includes project descriptions, pictures, benefits/costs, the bases for projects, project assignments, delivery dates, and the status of each project.

Relatively low-cost improvements — such as signing, traffic signal modifications, and striping — that are identified from engineering studies are implemented expeditiously. This builds public confidence in the DOT's ability to react quickly in these types of situations.

Decisions about all major aspects of project coordination, including the project development process and the determination of the level of public involvement, are made by a committee of representatives of all of the divisions within DOT.

Take a look at Delaware's process for identifying high accident locations and developing improvements - Making Delaware's Highways Safer

Best Practices in Florida

Safety is the Florida Department of Transportation's (FDOT) highest strategic goal.

Florida's Safety Management System (SMS) has an active steering committee, which holds quarterly meetings throughout the state. This is a good way to get more agencies involved. The state also has a full-time SMS coordinator.

Photo of 2 lane road with a guardrail on one side
Guardrails and proper, highly visible road markings are important aspects of a hazard elimination program.

Florida's Community Traffic Safety Teams (CTSTs) are highly successful in implementing safety improvements. Through the CTSTs, Florida gains several benefits, including considerable local input in selecting projects and countermeasures, faster implementation of projects, and the frequent use of informal agreements to meet the needs of the community.

The strength of the CTSTs lies in the talents of the individual volunteers and the synergism of the team. These teams include representatives from education, engineering, enforcement, and emergency services, as well as private and other interested groups. FDOT's role is to provide leadership and direction to the teams, provide resources and materials, and implement innovative and successful programs. The number of CTSTs has increased from nine in 1993 to the current level of 51.

Florida is divided into districts and each district office includes a safety engineer, a law enforcement liaison, and CTST coordinators.

All Florida Highway Patrol vehicles are to be equipped with computerized electronic data entry systems. Approximately 10 percent of local police agencies also have this capability. This results in immediate electronic data entry for about 40 percent to 45 percent of all crash data.

Best Practices in Iowa

The close working relationship shared by the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT), the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau, and Iowa State University's Center for Transportation Research and Education (CTRE) contributes significantly to the advancement of Iowa's safety initiatives.

Iowa's multidisciplinary Safety Management System Coordinating Committee opens communication channels that enable issues to be addressed better than if they were addressed by individual agencies. Iowa also has a full-time SMS coordinator. Through this multidisciplinary approach, Iowa is able to identify issues, comprehensively test and evaluate strategies, and ultimately apply tangible solutions to produce the best return for available resources.

Iowa modified the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Strategic Highway Safety Plan to create a state Strategic Highway Safety Plan that meets Iowa's needs.

In partnership with FHWA, Iowa participated in the development of the National Model for the Statewide Application of Data Collection and Management Technology to Improve Highway Safety. This has enabled Iowa to make maximum use of current technologies. The use of the Traffic and Criminal Software has resulted in more timely and accurate data, greater police officer efficiency, and better information-sharing. Also, Iowa's SMS Web site offers considerable data for public use.

Iowa's Safety Circuit Rider Program, which is operated by Iowa State University's CTRE, provides training at the local level.

The state has an outstanding Emergency Response Information System that has identified local emergency response units, their capabilities, key personnel, contact information, and area of coverage.

Best Practices in Ohio

The commitment to safety in Ohio starts with the governor and lieutenant governor and extends to every level. The goal of the Leadership Team for Transportation Safety in Ohio is to reduce the number and severity of crashes on Ohio's highways. The state departments of Transportation and Public Safety and the FHWA Ohio Division are safety partners and co-signers of a safety charter. The Safety Coordinating Group meets quarterly to advance the safety program and maintain open lines of communication with senior officials of all involved agencies.

The state makes a major effort to build a needs-based program and to target resources. This is being accomplished through a number of strategic initiatives, including the development of the Roadway Sufficiency Index, which gives significant weight to safety. Ohio has systematic processes in place for identifying locations of frequent crashes; however, districts are permitted to identify other locations at which safety improvements are needed.

The Roadway Analysis for Fatal and Injury Countermeasures (TRAFFIC) project provides assistance to local governments. TRAFFIC teams perform highway safety assessments that address the engineering, enforcement, and emergency medical services of targeted communities.

Ohio's Railroad Grade Separation Program coordinates public and private sector funding to construct grade separations over a 10-year period. There is a systematic process for selecting locations.

The state's Highway-Rail Grade Crossings Program includes the following strengths: the use of a corridor approach to select locations, incentives to close crossings, the development of a database using digital photographs, and local/county task forces.

Best Practices in Oregon

Oregon has made a major effort to emphasize safety in all projects. The Safety Investment Program of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program provides separate funding to address safety issues on preservation projects. In addition, safety considerations are identified in all projects involving the governor and the legislature.

Oregon's Project Safety Management System assists decision-makers in allocating resources.

The use of a full-time transportation safety coordinator in each of the state's regions brings the education and enforcement perspectives to traffic and safety challenges.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has a good Web site with extensive information.

Through the implementation of its TransGIS, ODOT is working to consolidate all state databases into one GIS-based program and to provide a variety of reports. It will provide a multitude of data to anyone who is on the system. For example, designers can easily obtain crash and traffic data for their projects, and safety personnel will have geometric and other data available to them to support their prioritization and selection of projects. Eventually, ODOT hopes to bring its photolog system and aerial photographs into it.

ODOT's Countermeasure Analysis Tool, a Web-based system, allows designers to analyze different alternatives. It provides a good decision-making tool and can also be used for presentations to the public.

Comments and Challenges

Overall, this review identified numerous noteworthy activities related to the HSIP and safety in general that are being implemented by these states. In addition to the best practices already noted, the following points need to be highlighted:

  • While state departments of transportation continue to have the major responsibility for the HSIP, the implementation of a successful program depends on good communication, cooperation, and coordination among agencies. The interaction of various agencies — public and private, state and local — creates effective partnerships for program development, advancement, and success. This was evident in the states visited.
  • One key to any successful highway safety improvement program is a knowledgeable, dedicated, and innovative staff. In all of the states visited, the review team met excellent safety personnel who had developed and implemented outstanding programs. The people make the programs.
  • The commitment to continuous process improvement was also evident (e.g., revision of policies and implementation of new and innovative programs).
  • The use of advanced and innovative technologies makes safety programs more efficient and effective.

The ultimate key to a successful HSIP is ensuring that the best possible decisions are being made when selecting locations for improvements. Since the establishment of the Hazard Elimination and Highway-Rail Grade Crossings Programs, many of the high-incident crash locations have been addressed. The challenge is to determine the locations with the highest potential for future crash reductions.

FHWA has recently awarded a contract for the development of a Comprehensive Highway Safety Improvement Model (CHSIM). This effort is intended to assist states and communities in improving their decision-making processes through the use of a new set of analytical tools designed for allocating resources to achieve greater safety improvements. CHSIM will consist of a set of analytical tools designed to:

  • Identify "sites with promise" (roadway sections and intersections) that have significant potential for crash reduction.
  • Diagnose safety problems at specific sites.
  • Select effective candidate countermeasures.
  • Develop an economic appraisal.
  • Develop a priority ranking system.

The complete CHSIM is expected to be developed over a five-year period and will ultimately be available as a software product for use by states and communities.

However, the low-tech activities should not be overlooked. The national safety review further validated that all agencies and offices involved in the safety program need to continuously develop, implement, and share best practices.

Kenneth Epstein is a highway engineer with the Office of Safety Programs of FHWA's Safety Core Business Unit. Prior to joining FHWA in 1991, he held several positions with the District of Columbia Department of Public Works. He has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in civil engineering from the University of Maryland and is a registered professional engineer in the District of Columbia.

Gary Corino is the assistant division administrator of FHWA's Tennessee Division Office. He has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the Newark College of Engineering, New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Donald Neumann is the safety and programs team leader with FHWA's Missouri Division Office. He helped to develop the initial HSIP guidelines. He has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from St. Louis University.

If you are aware of additional best practices, please report them to Kenneth Epstein at

The complete report from the review is available on FHWA's safety Web site:

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration