Moving FoRRRwD to Reduce Rural Roadway Departures
A systemic approach helps agencies save the people behind the numbers
Rural roadway departures make up a third of U.S. traffic fatalities—about 30 people a day. The Every Day Counts round five (EDC-5) initiative on reducing rural roadway departures features strategies to keep vehicles in their travel lanes, lower the potential for crashes, lessen the severity of crashes that do occur—and save lives.

"Roadway departures are not just run-off-the-road crashes, but any crash in which a vehicle crosses an edge line or center line or otherwise leaves the traveled way," said Cathy Satterfield, Federal Highway Administration roadway safety engineer and EDC-5 team co-leader.

About half of rural roadway departure fatalities occur on locally owned roads, so what the team calls its “focus on reducing rural roadway departures,” or FoRRRwD, involves working with both local and State transportation agencies. The team encourages agencies to use a systemic approach to identify safety improvement locations, deploy proven countermeasures, and develop safety action plans.

Thirty-two State Transportation Innovation Councils set goals to move FoRRRwD in EDC-5 by demonstrating, assessing, or using systemic application of safety countermeasures on rural roads as a standard practice.

Systemic Approach
"Rural roadway departure crash locations can be random, but fatal crash types tend to be predictable,” said Dick Albin, FHWA roadway safety engineer and EDC-5 team co-leader. “We can have the greatest impact by identifying roadway features connected with fatal and severe injury crashes and implementing countermeasures to address those features across the system."
Photo of car on rural roadway curve with safety countermeasures.Roadway departure countermeasures applied at this curve include wider lane separation to prevent head-on collisions in the curve, raised pavement markers, widened shoulders, and a guardrail.

This systemic approach identifies safety improvements based on high-risk roadway features that correlate with particular severe crash types rather than solely on crash data. Three-quarters of rural roadway departure fatalities involve vehicle rollovers, head-on crashes, or collisions with trees.

At a national level, risk factors in these types of crashes include curves and speeds of more than 50 miles an hour. “When agencies look at these crashes based on their own roadway data, we expect they will find more specific risk factors, such as traffic volume ranges or a curve radius,” said Albin.

Proven Countermeasures
The EDC-5 team provides training and technical assistance to help agencies find ways to more effectively use a variety of countermeasures to reduce rural roadway departures:

Signage and markings delineate lane edges and alignment changes and help drivers navigate.

Rumble strips provide an audible alert to drivers drifting from their lane.

High-friction surface treatments at curves or other key locations help drivers maintain better control of their vehicles.

Shoulders, the SafetyEdgeSM paving treatment, and clear zones provide opportunities for a safe recovery when drivers leave the roadway.

Roadside hardware, such as breakaway features on signs and barriers to shield trees, reduces the severity of roadway departure crashes.

Action Plans
Traffic fatality pie chart with three segments: rural roadway departures 34 percent, rural other 17 percent, urban 49 percent. Rural roadway departures account for about a third of all U.S. traffic fatalities.
Safety action plans help agencies prioritize the locations and countermeasures that will reduce rural roadway departures most effectively. In Washington, 35 of the State’s 39 counties completed local road safety plans (LRSPs) to identify priorities for Highway Safety Improvement Program funding.

"The plans made it easier for the Washington State Department of Transportation to support funding requests made by the counties," said Scott Davis, Thurston County traffic engineering and operations manager.

Thurston County, where about two-thirds of the roads are in rural areas, used FHWA’s Systemic Safety Project Selection Tool to determine risk factors and prioritize rural safety investments. "The tool allowed us to go from a reactive to proactive approach, from events-based to risk-based, so we can address problems before a crash can happen," said Davis.

One area of concern targeted in Thurston County’s LRSP was curves, where 45 percent of fatal and serious injury crashes occurred from 2006 to 2010. Over several years, the county implemented countermeasures at curves such as enhanced signage, raised pavement markers, rumble strips, and guardrail delineation. As a result, 2012 to 2016 crash data showed a 35 percent reduction in fatal and serious injury crashes at curves.

"Now that we have performance results, it is easier to communicate to our executives and elected officials about our safety programs," Davis said. "It helps build support for future funding."


Watch a webinar on how agencies are using proven countermeasures to reduce rural roadway departures.

Visit the roadway departure safety web page to learn about FHWA’s strategic approach to keep vehicles on the roadway, provide for safe recovery, and reduce crash severity.

Contact Cathy Satterfield of the FHWA Office of Safety or Dick Albin of the FHWA Resource Center for information, technical assistance, and training, including peer exchanges and focus groups.