Systemic application of proven roadway departure countermeasures by State and local agencies on rural roads can have a positive impact on safety and reduce traffic deaths.
Reducing fatalities on rural roads remains a major challenge in the United States. In 2016, 18,590 lives were lost on rural roads—more than half of all traffic deaths—even though only 19 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas. Substantial safety improvements can be difficult to make because rural roads account for approximately 70 percent of public road mileage and are often operated by local agencies with limited resources and technical expertise in safety analysis or planning.
There are opportunities for State departments of transportation (DOTs), local agencies, and Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) Centers to increase usage of proven safety countermeasures, tools, and other resources to more effectively keep vehicles in their travel lanes, reduce the potential for crashes when vehicles do leave their lanes, and reduce the severity of those crashes that do occur.
Safer Rural Roads
Transportation agencies can use various analysis, diagnostic, and countermeasure selection tools to systemically apply safety treatments that are in sync with their State’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP). Where data is limited, agencies can set high-priority parameters (e.g. volume criteria) for systemic application of roadway departure countermeasures based on research or data from similar agencies. Examples include:
- Signage and markings delineate lane edges, alignment changes, and help drivers navigate.
- Rumble strips alert drowsy and distracted drivers drifting from their lane.
- Friction treatments at curves or other important locations reduce loss of control.
- Shoulders, SafetyEdgeSM, and clear zones provide opportunities for a safe recovery when drivers leave the roadway.
- Roadside hardware can reduce the severity of roadway departure crashes.
- Safer Roads. The proposed countermeasures are proven to reduce severe crashes.
- Quick Deployment. Crash modification factors are available and standards are in place at State DOTs for most countermeasures. Data, analysis tools, and processes are available to identify and implement effective treatments at prioritized locations.
- Flexibility. Various analysis, diagnostic, and countermeasure selection tools are available for use based on the data availability and the State’s SHSP goals.
State of the Practice
Roadway departure countermeasures are regularly used on roads with higher functional classifications and are proven methods 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 are mainstream at the State level, which has prepared for implementation at the local level. The data, analysis tools, and processes to identify and implement effective treatments at prioritized locations are available in many States and, to a lesser extent, corresponding local agencies.
Minnesota has developed viable safety implementation plans for each of its counties, made funding readily available, and promoted partnerships for efficient construction management. North Dakota has also developed plans for all its counties, while Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas are working on a similar effort. Nearly all of Washington’s counties have also developed plans. FHWA is working with more than a dozen State DOTs and LTAP Centers to pilot the development of Local Safety Implementation Plans. In addition, approximately 350 Tribal Safety Plans have been developed or are in progress.