U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Both the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) have identified safety as a top-level emphasis. Each organization has strategic safety plans and priority programs. A reduction in highway fatalities and injuries is the goal.
The effective planning, development, and implementation of a roadway strategic safety plan typically require the cooperation and coordination of a large number of people, safety elements, and funding sources. Recognizing that innovations from other countries could greatly influence practice in the United States, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and AASHTO sponsored an international technology scanning study that investigated the management and organization of comprehensive highway safety programs in Europe. The study, conducted in March 2002, included visits to Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
The objective of the scanning study was to investigate and review the supporting mechanisms used in planning, developing, and implementing highway safety programs. The policies, strategies, analytical tools, outreach efforts, and public-private sector relationships that guide these activities were examined. Of particular interest to the study team were:
Scanning team members were selected to represent the diversity of professionals involved in highway safety. The team included representatives from FHWA, universities, State departments of transportation, and a non-profit private research organization. The team included engineers, a State patrol superintendent, and a governor's highway safety bureau representative.
Each country the team visited during the scanning study provided information with potential to significantly influence highway safety management and organization in the United States. Key study findings from each country are described below. Examples of safety program elements and activities for each country are in the main body of the text.
The overarching philosophy that guides Sweden's approach and decisions related to roadway safety is called "Vision Zero." This philosophy is based on the idea that highway fatalities are not acceptable and that a fatality is a shared failure of the interacting entities within that system. These interacting entities include policymakers and politicians, planners, drivers and road users, police agencies, highway agencies and road managers, driving educators, and vehicle manufacturers. Sweden's safety plan includes a clear goal for total fatality reductions: a 50 percent reduction in the 1996 fatality total by 2007. The debate continues, however, on how the philosophy of Vision Zero and the theory of shared responsibility can be implemented. Some consider roadway safety to be the sole responsibility of the system designers, while others believe effective safety improvements are a shared responsibility of the government and the roadway user. The impact of the Vision Zero philosophy, the principle of shared responsibility on highway safety programming, and the day-to-day implementation of highway safety improvements are points of discussion.
The focus on highway fatality reductions in Sweden has resulted in a multidimensional programming framework related to the tolerance of a human body to kinetic energy. Measures that manage the kinetic energy during a crash are a key aspect. The framework model for fatality reduction, therefore, focuses on vehicle crashworthiness, occupant restraints and their use, and vehicle speed. Since 1997, all fatalities that occur in Sweden have undergone in-depth investigation. Fatal crashes are defined as those that occurred because participants acted outside the system criteria, took excessive risks, or produced excessive force. The output of these investigations and the general kinetic energy management framework have resulted in multidisciplinary solutions for reducing highway fatalities.
Crash analysis in Sweden has extended beyond identification and improvement of "black spots," or specific locations with safety concerns. The objective of many crash analyses is to identify locations where fatalities and serious injuries can be reduced in a cost-effective manner. This focus on fatalities and serious injuries is one of the impacts of following the Vision Zero philosophy. The safety analysis focus in Sweden is on "black environments," which are roadway subclasses, or roadways with similar characteristics, that have a higher-than-expected number of crashes per mile. If a particular subclass of roadway is found to have more crashes than anticipated, improvements are made to the entire subclass of roadways.
Germany has published a federal road safety program. This advisory document includes more than 100 suggested highway safety initiatives in the areas of engineering, education, and enforcement. The approved program does not include any suggested fatality or serious injury targets. During the scanning study, however, safety experts mentioned a 50 percent target reduction in fatalities and serious injuries in the next 10 years, and at least one speaker expressed the hope that it would be included when the next program is approved in two years. Highway safety improvements are a priority in Germany, and the country has experienced a large reduction in highway fatalities since it was reunified in 1990.
It was clear in Germany that a significant amount of coordination and communication exists among the agencies involved with highway safety. The safety plans and agendas at the national, state, and local levels have similar objectives and measures. The study team also observed this similarity when the nongovernmental highway safety organization discussed its objectives.
The Germans have institutionalized multidisciplinary local accident commissions. These commissions, totaling more than 500, consist of police officers and representatives of roadway and traffic authorities. The commissions are required to investigate high-risk safety locations identified by crash records and determine solutions to the safety concerns at these locations. Some commissions are more effective than others, and an ongoing training program exists for commission members. In addition, German police officers undergo a significant amount of consistent and comprehensive training in the areas of traffic management and crash analysis. This training and the data they provide make them essential and knowledgeable members of accident commissions.
The Netherlands has had long-term national safety goals for decades. Its "National Traffic and Transport Plan" safety target is equivalent to a 30 percent reduction in fatalities (with an annual maximum of 750) and a 25 percent reduction in serious injuries (with a maximum of 14,000) by 2010.
The Dutch government recognizes that its ability to meet this safety goal requires a decentralization of implementation responsibility where feasible. In other words, highway safety improvements are often accomplished most effectively at the regional and local levels. In addition, the content and goals of the "National Traffic and Transport Plan" were determined through a process called the "Polder" model. This approach requires thorough and close consultation and coordination among all appropriate safety-related groups to reach agreement on a plan. This process often takes longer than others, but is common in the Netherlands. In fact, the National Traffic and Transport Plan and targets are the basis for the regional and metropolitan area safety plans in the Netherlands.
"Sustainable safety" has been the overarching philosophy followed in the Netherlands since 1997. The basis of this approach is the proactive prevention of unsafe roadway conditions. Some of the measures this approach focuses on involve vulnerable road users - including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and moped users - and the concept of self-explaining roadways with markings that clearly show drivers their expected behavior. It also includes reclassifying the roadway network and redesigning some roadways to make them more consistent with the self-explaining concept. The Netherlands focuses safety improvements on routes and areas expected to have problems versus individual spots. Measures to improve safety have been identified for local roadway corridors within specifically defined 30 kilometers-per-hour (about 18 miles-per-hour) zones in urban areas and 60-kilometers-per-hour (about 36 miles-perhour) zones in rural areas. In essence, the Netherlands' approach is the proactive implementation of measures known to improve safety.
The United Kingdom consists of Great Britain (Scotland, Wales, and England) and Northern Ireland. Great Britain has a national safety plan with defined fatality and injury reduction targets. The safety targets in the plan, "Tomorrow's Roads - Safer for Everyone," include a 40 percent reduction in total roadway fatalities and serious injuries, a 50 percent reduction in the number of children killed or seriously injured, and a 10 percent reduction in the slight casualty rate. The first two goals focus on reduction in total magnitude, but the goal for slight casualties, which is expected to be the most difficult to achieve, is a rate. This new goal follows a similar effort launched in 1987 when a goal of a one-third reduction in road casualties by 2000 was set. This goal was met and exceeded, and federal officials expressed the opinion that having a specific fatality reduction goal was the most important aspect of their approach. The goal focused the efforts of the safety organizations involved on choosing and prioritizing strategies that truly would reduce fatalities and serious injuries.
The plan's content was developed through significant communication and coordination among all safety agencies. In fact, regional and local highway agencies involved in safety helped determine the targets, and these form the basis for the highway safety plans the agencies developed. This approach, combined with a requirement for local transport plans, has resulted in fully integrated safety plans from the national to the local levels of government, as well as active support for the national plan. It also has produced a situation in which jurisdictions are proud of their safety improvements and compete with neighboring jurisdictions on safety issues.
Two components of the plan appear to be key to its success. First, research results are used to show highway safety agencies how the fatality and serious injury reduction targets are achievable. Documentation indicates the expected reduction contribution of individual measures. Second, the safety policy provides for performance-based financial incentives. For example, additional funding is provided to local governments if they meet safety targets.
As in the other countries visited, highway safety agencies in the United Kingdom have begun to do safety analysis and improvements on corridor and area levels. The scan team visited several corridors in England that had been improved as a whole route. A number of safety improvement measures were consistently applied throughout the corridors, and locations with special safety concerns were mitigated as appropriate. Measures included high-performance marking and signing, intelligent roadway studs, new or more consistently applied speed limits, and several trafficcalming devices. The United Kingdom also has experimented with the application of area-wide safety improvements in Gloucester. One objective of the Gloucester Safety City program was to reduce roadway casualties in the city 33 percent by April 2002. The program used a multidisciplinary approach to safety improvement, including engineering schemes, education, and additional enforcement.
The highway safety programs in the countries the team visited shared several common themes. In many cases, the effectiveness of the programs explored resulted from the application of these themes.
Highway Safety as a Public Health or Quality of Life Issue
For the most part, highway safety is viewed as a public health or quality of life issue in the countries visited. In addition, safety decisions and targets are based on a common philosophy or slogan.
Comprehensive and Coordinated Safety Plan and Goals
The countries visited take a proactive approach to highway safety that includes a fully integrated and nationally accepted plan. Three of the four countries had measurable and deliverable fatality and injury reduction targets.
The plans were developed and implemented with strong national leadership and significant financial support, and included local participation and input when plan content and safety improvement targets were determined. The national plan also forms the basis for local safety plans and targets.
Highway Safety Program Elements
The highway safety programs in the countries visited have several similar elements, measures, and focus areas. These include:
Many of these elements have been implemented to some degree in the United States.
Highway Safety Support Activities
One factor that has an impact on the success of the highway safety programs investigated is the existence of strong highway safety support activities. Each country does a significant amount of data collection and analysis to show the impacts of existing or planned safety improvements, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of measures, and investigate the performance of operating agencies. Significant funding is provided to highway safety research agencies for their active technical support, expertise, and policy analysis capabilities. Substantial intellectual capacity is directed to the highway safety field. In several cases, the national government provides a significant portion of the funding for research organizations with highway safety analysis capabilities and nongovernmental organizations. Nongovernmental organizations, for the most part, are direct participants in the highway safety programming and plan development decision-making process. They challenge governmental approaches and operate as a watchdog or representative of the general public.
The scanning team gathered a significant amount of information related to the development and implementation of highway safety programs. This information and the findings previously described resulted in several potential recommendations and useful examples for the U.S. highway safety program. The team outlines four recommendations below. The findings, observations, and recommendations are those of the scanning team and not of FHWA.
First, the scanning team recommends that the approach used in the countries visited to develop and implement highway safety programs be used in the United States. All the countries have a fully integrated highway safety plan that includes significant financial and administrative support. Consistent and comprehensive communication, participation, and input from all safety organizations were essential to the development and effective application of these plans. Communication links occur throughout the country and within and between organizations from the federal to local levels. Fully integrating all players in the highway safety arena is essential for developing a nationally accepted plan that forms the basis for state, local, and nongovernmental highway safety plans.
Second, the scanning team recommends that all highway safety plans include specific safety improvement targets or goals that are keyed to a national plan and agreed to by all the agencies and organizations involved. The plan should show that the targets are achievable by including supporting documentation that identifies the expected contribution of particular safety improvements. The sum of individual contributions should be equal to or greater than the overall reduction target in the plan. The specific measures included in these plans should be tailored to the highway safety concerns and needs of the jurisdiction.
Third, the scanning team recommends implementation of safety-performance incentive
programs at the Federal and/or State level. It is generally recognized that
the safety improvement targets proposed in a national highway safety plan can
only be achieved through the implementation of program measures at State and
levels of government. The implementation of these measures has economic and staffing requirements, and providing financial incentives related to safety performance measures appears to be an effective tool to achieve national, State, and local safety improvement targets. The safety-performance incentive funds provided can then be used for additional safety improvements. Safety performance for these incentives should be compared to the targets documented in an individual agency safety plan, and the measures used to achieve safety performance recorded.
The scanning team's final recommendation relates to implementation of a demonstration project and continued U.S. focus on three highway safety program elements common in Europe. The team recommends that a demonstration project be completed that involves considering, identifying, implementing, and evaluating corridor or area-wide safety improvements. The corridors or areas used in this demonstration project should be chosen based on their expected safety performance. The team also recommends that speed management measures, automated enforcement, and implementation of road safety audits continue to be promoted and pursued in the United States.
The scanning team identified several efforts related to the discussion of policy guidance and comprehensive coordination in the area of highway safety programming. Given the expected resources available for implementing any suggestions and the timing of the upcoming Federal transportation funding reauthorization, the team recommends only one specific action in its implementation strategy.
In April 2002, the Netherlands held a highway safety "Sunflower" Conference. The "Sun" in "Sunflower" refers to the initial letters of Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. The conference objective was to use highway safety in these three countries as examples to help other European Union countries. More specifically, discussions were held to identify the highway safety programs needed to continue improving safety performance throughout Europe, and dialogue focused on safety policies and project selection. The countries sponsoring the conference are Europe's leading safety experts and are recognized for their ability to work with senior leadership.
The scanning team recommends that two or three conferences of this type be
held in the United States. Each conference would include participation of European
experts the scanning team visited, some team members, and leaders from the State
in which the conference is held. The team also recommends organizing a national-level
conference of this type with USDOT and AASHTO involvement. The three tasks needed
to develop the conferences are described in the main body of this document.