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FHWA Home / OIPD / Accelerating Innovation / Every Day Counts / EDC-5: Reducing Rural Roadway Departures

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Reducing Rural Roadway Departures

Systemic application of proven roadway departure countermeasures can save lives on all rural roads.

Every year, nearly 12,000 people die in crashes when their car leaves its travel lane on a rural road. That’s 30 people today, and every day. However, there are countermeasures and approaches that are proven to reduce these deaths. This initiative encourages agencies to use them and focus on reducing rural roadway departures (FoRRRwD) in their areas.

FoRRRwD is based on four pillars:

  • All public roads
  • Proven countermeasures
  • A systemic approach
  • Safety action plans

Consider all rural public roads

Roadway departure crashes are a major problem on all public rural roads. Nationally, 50-60 percent of them happen on State networks. That means more than 40 percent occur on locally-owned roads, off the State highway system.

Flexible countermeasures that work

There are many cost-effective countermeasures that are proven to reduce these crashes. They fall into three categories:

The countermeasures are also flexible. They can be installed in various situations and on many types of roadway. Countermeasures can be used individually or in combination.

The systemic approach addresses widely dispersed crashes

A fundamental challenge on rural roads is that roadway departure crash locations are random and change from year to year. This makes it challenging to choose the best locations to install the proven countermeasures.

However, there are multiple analysis tools to help identify locations that are at highest risk of future roadway departure crashes. Once agencies know which locations and corridors are at high risk of roadway departures, they can install countermeasures systemically across the network.

Systemic analysis uses the crash and road data from the past to identify where the greatest risk is likely to be in the future.

A plan to get people home safely

Documenting the systemic analysis into a simple safety action plan is a powerful way to prioritize safety improvements and justify your investment decisions.

The safety plan framework is flexible and can be customized to local needs. Safety plans can range from just a few pages to several chapters and appendices.

A formal plan will also help to communicate more clearly with stakeholders as well as access funding opportunities.


  • Proactive approach. Systemic analysis enables practitioners to mitigate high-risk locations, sometimes before crashes even happen.
  • Targeted investments. Projects are based on data and risk, so investments can be made with more confidence.
  • Flexibility. There is a wide range of analysis and countermeasure selection tools to fit any level of data and expertise.
  • Safer roads. The combination of proven countermeasures installed at targeted, high-risk locations is the key to reducing rural roadway departures.

State of the Practice

Roadway departure countermeasures are regularly used on roads with higher functional classifications and are proven for reducing crashes and improving the safety of the transportation system. Crash modification factors have been developed and promoted for several of these countermeasures, and they can be applied more broadly using existing tools and processes.

Safety Action Plans have been piloted in many forms:

  • The FHWA Office of Safety developed seventeen statewide roadway departure implementation plans in cooperation with the State DOTs identified as Roadway Departure Focus States. Many have implemented the recommendations and some of these States have developed updated plans.
  • The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) funded the development of systemic road safety plans for each county in the State. MnDOT then made project funding available to local agencies and promoted partnerships for efficient construction management. Crash data show that there has been a reduction in the serious crash rate on the county system, proving that the systemic approach is effective. A few other midwestern States are following this example, but most are in the early stages and some are less comprehensive in the territory covered.
  • In Washington State, the Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) Center provided crash data and information to the counties and encouraged them to develop their own Local Road Safety Plans (LRSPs) to be eligible for HSIP funding. Washington State too saw fatal and serious injury crashes decline at a steeper rate than on the State roadway system. The National Association of County Engineers and FHWA partnered to pilot this LRSP development model with other States. The pilot included 42 counties. Some States that participated in the first LRSP pilot, like California, are now working with other local agencies to develop and implement LRSPs statewide.
  • Approximately 350 Tribal Transportation Safety Plans have been developed or are in progress.
  • The FHWA Office of Safety has assisted agencies in developing LRSPs, working in partnership with the LTAP Centers, State DOTs, and county road associations.
Page last modified on April 23, 2021
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