Driving FoRRRwD to Reduce Rural Roadway Departures

Each year, about 12,000 people die in crashes when vehicles veer out of their travel lanes in rural areas. “That means 30 people will die today as a result of a roadway departure crash on a rural road,” said Dick Albin, Federal Highway Administration senior safety engineer.

In Every Day Counts round five (EDC-5), FHWA is targeting this deadly problem with a focus on reducing rural roadway departures (FoRRRwD). “Our mission is to reduce the potential for roadway departure crashes on all public rural roads by increasing the systemic deployment of proven countermeasures,” said Cathy Satterfield, FHWA roadway safety engineer.

To achieve this mission, FoRRRwD promotes four pillars:

  • Address all public roads. The initiative encompasses both States and localities because 45 percent of rural roadway departure deaths occur on roads not typically maintained by a State agency. “To make a dent in the numbers, we need to deal with that half of the pie as well,” said Albin.
  • Use systemic deployment. Rural lane departures are not normally found in hot spots, but spread across road networks. Systemic analysis uses historical crash, traffic, and roadway data to identify where the greatest risk is likely to be in the future.
  • Develop a safety action plan. Documenting systemic analysis in a safety action plan helps agencies prioritize safety improvements and justify investment decisions.
  • Install proven countermeasures. Delineation, signing, friction treatments, and rumble strips help keep drivers in their lanes. Wider shoulders and clear zones provide drivers a better opportunity to recover if they do leave the lane. Barriers can minimize the severity of a crash.

With the EDC-5 team’s assistance, agencies in more than 30 States are developing, demonstrating, and assessing use of the four pillars of FoRRRwD.

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Proactive Approach

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) accelerated implementation of safety improvements by dedicating more than 80 percent of its Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funds to systemic countermeasures, totaling nearly $140 million through 2025. More than half of this funding targets reduction of rural roadway departures.

VDOT’s safety target-setting methodology demonstrated that systemic projects result in greater return on investment than spot improvements, prompting VDOT to shift the HSIP funding emphasis to systemic improvements. The plan focuses on eight countermeasures, including curve signage, shoulder wedges, and rumble strips. VDOT estimates that countermeasures targeting roadway departure crashes will prevent 54 deaths and 831 injuries a year when fully deployed.

curve warning signs imageCurve warning signs are cost-effective tools proven to reduce crashes on horizontal curves, where 25 percent of traffic fatalities occur. Watch a digital slide show on using curve warning signs to reduce lane departure crashes.

In Iowa, Johnson County is among the localities that have been proactive in evaluating safety data to identify projects to reduce roadway departure crashes. The planning process to develop the county’s Local Road Safety Plan included mapping roadway departures. “This is a great tool that provides a visual of where corrections are needed that you can take to elected officials,” said Greg Parker, county engineer.

Among Johnson County’s tactics to reduce rural roadway departures are road safety audits, in which a multidisciplinary team identifies and recommends solutions to safety issues at a site. An audit conducted at a 90-degree turn where lane departures were occurring found issues with the placement, height, and size of warning signs. “We made corrections and roadway departures at the turn were reduced to almost zero,” said Parker. Other countermeasures the county uses include paved shoulders, rumble strips, high-friction surface treatments, and the SafetyEdgeSM. “A combination of any or all of these safety countermeasures is beneficial,” Parker said.

Champaign County, OH, collaborated with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and other stakeholders to develop a Champaign County Road Safety Plan. The rural county started the process by analyzing 10 years of crash data, much of it from ODOT. “We decided we needed to look at more than just the county road system,” said Stephen McCall, county engineer. “We looked at the road system in its entirety, including State, township, and municipal roads.”

The county convened meetings with stakeholders from law enforcement, emergency medical services, schools, city engineer offices, and elected officials to review the data and get input on safety goals, strategies, and projects. “Stakeholders were an important part of the discussion,” said McCall. The county will implement the plan over 5 years, while evaluating annually whether the programs and projects are reducing fatalities and severe crashes.


Check out this virtual storyboard about the benefits of curve warning signs and how they can reduce rural roadway departure deaths on your roadways.

Watch a FoRRRwD overview video on the benefits of addressing rural roadway departures systemically.

Go to the EDC events page to register for webinars on FoRRRwD strategies.

Visit FHWA’s roadway departure safety page to learn about strategies 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 and technical assistance.