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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-06-099
Date: September 2006

Traffic Safety Information Systems International Scan: Strategy Implementation White Paper

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Introduction

Role of Safety Data

State and local transportation agencies are responsible for the operation of a safe and efficient transportation system. Within the agency, there is often a department that focuses on road safety. As an example, the Traffic Safety Systems Management Unit (TSSMU) within the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) has a mission statement that reads:

The mission of TSSMU is to reduce the number and severity of crashes and reduce the crash potential on all of North Carolina's roadways by implementing safety in the planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation phases of the highway program.

Accomplishing this type of mission requires making resource allocation decisions for roadway investments, establishing local or statewide policies, investing in needed research, and working with other agencies, such as enforcement and education, to accomplish multidiscipline programs. A key requirement for enabling an agency to make appropriate and confident decisions is to have available complete, accurate, and timely data. Although the emphasis is often on crash data, it is important to understand that other types of data such as roadway characteristics, roadside features, driver history and exposure, traffic mix and volume, and the ability to link these data to crash data, are just as critical to the decisionmaking process.

By the 1990s, the trend in many States was to reduce both the quantity and quality of data collected, which in turn, has affected the decisionmaking capabilities of State and local transportation agencies. The need to reverse this trend was recognized in 1998 by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in its publication of the Strategic Highway Safety Plan. One of the six core elements of this plan was management, which focuses on the problems associated with gathering and analyzing crash data. The two goals within this element are to (1) improve the information and decision support systems, and (2) create more effective process and safety management systems.

Learning from Other Countries

While the fatality rate in the United States has essentially flattened in recent years, other countries have continued to succeed at reducing fatal and serious injury crash rates. In October 2003, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and AASHTO sponsored an international scanning study to visit and learn from several of these countries. An 11-member panel that included expertise in engineering, enforcement, drivers and motor vehicles, administration and policy, systems and technology, and traffic safety research visited the Netherlands, Germany, and Australia. The objective of the study was to understand how these countries built and used traffic safety information systems and to learn what made them successful at continuing to reduce the level of harm on their roadways.

Overview of Umbrella Project

The final report from the international scan documented what was learned from the three countries visited and included a set of recommendations and implementation strategies for improving traffic safety information systems in this country.(1) The scanning team proposed an umbrella project to acquire input and update the strategies associated with the goal of improving information and decision support systems, which coincides with the goals of the management element within the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan. This project includes the following tasks:

  1. Prepare a white paper to describe in greater detail the guiding principles and implementation strategies that were included in the final report of the scanning team.
  2. Conduct a focus group meeting to solicit feedback on the white paper and develop additional details as necessary.
  3. Develop a framework for, and then conduct, a National Safety Data Forum with sponsorship from various highway safety organizations.
  4. Prepare final implementation documents, which will include updated strategies for the appropriate goals within the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

Goal of this Paper

This paper is the result of the first task just described. The goal of the paper is to build on the final report and the implementation plan that was developed by the scanning team and to provide action-related details to some of the critical strategies as well as adding new strategies to reach the team's goals.

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