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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-11-001    Date:  November/December 2010
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-11-001
Issue No: Vol. 74 No. 3
Date: November/December 2010


Guest Editorials

Improving Transportation Safety Is Priority No. 1

Photo. Headshot of Monique Evans.Safety is the top priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which remain deeply committed to reducing fatalities and serious injuries on the Nation's roadways. For about a decade, the annual number of highway fatalities in the United States hovered around 42,000. Then, starting in 2006, the number of fatalities began to drop steadily to its current level of approximately 34,000. Although this downward trend indicates progress, much work remains to be done.

A whole host of strategies will be required for systematic and continuous improvement of highway safety, ranging from targeted funding for safety improvements to consistent advancements in the four Es -- engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency response. The FHWA Office of Safety Research & Development (R&D) contributes to these strategies by partnering with the agency's Office of Safety and Resource Center (along with other Federal and State agencies) to identify R&D and technology transfer activities that address high-priority safety concerns. The office is focused on developing products and tools; providing services such as technical guidance, training, and laboratory testing; and identifying new designs and technologies to assist the FHWA division offices and State and local decisionmakers and practitioners.

Researchers in the Office of Safety R&D use data-driven decisionmaking to identify the worst safety problems that could be improved by infrastructure-based interventions, such as the large number of fatalities due to roadway departures. Using research roadmaps, R&D staffers also identify and codify gaps in the knowledge and technology base that need to be filled in order to produce practical solutions. Roadmaps currently exist for nine program areas: human factors, intersections, motorcycles, pedestrians and bicycles, roadway departures, rural and local roads, speed management, visibility, and comprehensive approaches to safety (that is, data tools). The Office of Safety R&D also provides research and support services in the areas of geometric design and visibility. In addition, R&D teams explore a variety of advanced research topics that have the potential to result in transformative changes to the Nation's surface transportation system.

The Office of Safety R&D plays a key role in other major safety R&D programs such as development of the Strategic Highway Research Program 2 (SHRP 2) safety plan. SHRP 2 is addressing the role of driver performance and behavior in traffic safety. The office also oversees the IntelliDriveSM program that is developing vehicle-to-infrastructure technology and encouraging its deployment.

It's an exciting time to be involved in transportation safety. Clearly, current efforts are resulting in positive change. Continued improvements are likely to rely on a collaborative, multimodal, multidisciplinary, and systemic approach supported by strategic investments of time and money. In the pursuit of priority number one, FHWA and its partners will continue to refine and reinforce the framework to facilitate additional safety gains. One day, zero fatalities will be the norm and not a lofty goal.

Monique R. Evans

Director, Office of Safety Research & Development

Federal Highway Administration




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