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Intersection Safety Needs Identification Report

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Intersection Safety Categories and Associated Strategies
4. Intersection Program Issues

4.1 Road Safety Audits at Intersections

Issues.  A Road Safety Audit (RSA) is a formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent audit team. It qualitatively estimates and reports on potential road safety issues and identifies opportunities for improvements in safety for all road users.  RSAs are an effective way to obtain an independent opinion about safety needs for an intersection, corridor, or network.  Safety audits are often used in one of two ways—either to parallel the design process to suggest potential design revisions, or at a location with a safety concern to identify alternative solutions (before a design project is initiated).

Although RSAs have gained popularity in some regions, their acceptance varies and their use is still not uniform.  Furthermore, some areas may lack personnel with the training or qualifications necessary to perform a safety audit.  Another common problem with these audits is that suggested changes may or may not be implemented by the responsible agency.
Other perceived problems are that the specific safety effectiveness (crash reductions) of RSAs has not been defined and/or documented; FHWA has recently developed an RSA guidebook, online software, and a training course.  However, having enough trained personnel to perform audits will be crucial, especially engineers who can identify creative low-cost solutions.  And finally, the agency responsible for the intersection needs to have a plan for implementing the suggestions given by the intersection audit team. 


  1. Review current road safety audit material to evaluate whether the information is appropriate for intersections. 
  2. Review existing NHI and FHWA road safety audit training courses to evaluate whether adequate coverage is given to the topic of intersections.  Create a renewed focus in promoting and providing intersection safety audit courses. 
  3. Promote the use of intersection safety audits by publishing success stories where implemented recommendations had an immediate and noticeable reduction in crashes.  Include a safety audit category as part of the National Roadway Safety Awards.

photo - Sample collection of crash data report forms.  Details not shown.4.2 Crash Data and Reporting

The purpose of a comprehensive traffic records system is to ensure that complete, accurate and timely traffic safety data are collected, analyzed, and made available for decision making at the national, state, and local levels to reduce crashes, deaths and injuries on our nation’s highways. NHTSA does this through its Section 408 program, which distributes grants to states through its Traffic Safety Information System Improvements Program.


To identify areas that need improvement as well as to be able to measure improvement in safety, reliable crash data is necessary.  Engineers need to have timely access to the crash data.
For traffic engineers to be able use data collected from a police crash report, the information must have six characteristics of “quality” attached to it, as follows:


  1. Continue the dialogue and collaboration between users and collectors of crash data to better integrate the needs of each onto crash report forms.
  2. Maintain strong funding and support for the state Traffic Record Coordinating Committees.
  3. Develop outreach and education between traffic engineers and police officers to further communicate the necessity for accurate, timely, complete, consistent, accessible, and linked crash data. 
  4. Encourage state and local jurisdictions to standardize their crash data collection based on ANSI D16.1 Standard and the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC).
  5. States and local jurisdictions should standardize the collection of roadway inventory and traffic elements critical to safety management based on the Model Minimum Inventory of Roadway Elements (MMIRE).

4.3 Intersection Design Standards, Guidelines, Policies, and Practices

Issues.  Intersection design standards, guidelines, policies, and practices (e.g., signing, turn-lane lengths, lighting, etc.) may not adequately incorporate the current knowledge on the safety performance of different intersection designs, traffic control devices, and other countermeasures.  Furthermore, design standards, guidelines, policies, and practices are likely based on safety, as well as cost, capacity, and driver comfort.  This means that simply attaining minimum values do not guarantee a “safe” design.   With growing  information about transportation safety, including vehicle performance, driver behavior, access management, and countermeasure effectiveness, it is important to ensure that design standards, guidelines, policies, and practices accurately reflect the state of current knowledge.

Not only does this information need to be incorporated at the national level, but it must be shared with all levels of highway agencies if the resulting changes are to be effectively and widely implemented.  This leads to a need for an education program to share updates with the engineering community.


  1. Utilize NCRHP Report 500 guides (especially Volumes 5 and 12 which are specific to intersections), the intersection safety strategy brochures and FHWA’s Desktop Reference for Crash Reduction Factors to select cost-effective countermeasures that can be incorporated into the intersection design process early to avoid later expensive retrofits.
  2. At the release of the Highway Safety Manual, convene a panel to review national design and signing guidelines for potential revisions to incorporate the latest intersection safety information available in the manual, NCHRP Report 500 guides, and FHWA’s Desktop Reference for Crash Reduction Factors.
  3. Develop and package training that emphasizes new design standards, guidelines, policies and practices that have been established nationally and internationally in the past few years.
  4. Identify and promote key personnel to assist agencies (e.g., peer-to-peer) in reviewing and updating intersection design standards, guidelines, policies, and practices to incorporate current knowledge on safety performance.

4.4 Multidisciplinary Nature of Intersection Safety

Issues.  The safety issues faced at intersections are multi-faceted, with potential variations in the users (drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists), traffic control type (signalized and unsignalized), location (rural or urban), jurisdiction (state or local) and functional class (high-volume arterial or low-volume local road).  Furthermore, an equally wide variety in driver behavior (speeding, inattentiveness, failure to yield) and demographics (teen drivers, elderly drivers, children walking or biking to school) can be contributing factors to intersection crashes.

With all these factors, it is clear that no one agency, group or countermeasure will be able to solve all intersection safety problems. This leads to the recognition that the multidisciplinary 4E approach is best able to address all aspects of the intersection safety problem.

The key to resolving the multifaceted intersection safety problem begins with an approach that encourages cooperation and coordination among the four Es – education, emergency medical services, enforcement, and engineering.  Regular meetings involving all disciplines in traffic safety will encourage the sharing of information, plans, and possibly even resources.  Ideally, this approach will occur at all levels of government—local, state, and national.  While states used an integrated approach to develop their strategic highway safety plans, an important key is to continue the interaction through implementation and evaluation.


  1. Organize a national 4E coalition to establish a multidisciplinary discourse to monitor the progress on intersection safety and identify programs that organizations are willing to collaborate on.  Participating agencies should represent not only federal agencies but also national organizations representing cities, counties, police and sheriff departments, emergency medical services providers, etc.
  2. Develop and implement multi-disciplinary intersection safety action plans.
  3. Develop a startup kit and program materials for state and local agencies.  Material should help in the organization and structure of multidisciplinary teams that address state and local intersection issues.
  4. Contact existing state and local 4E teams that address intersection safety within their communities to learn if and how the teams are meeting objectives.  This can include existing NHTSA Safe Community Programs or SHSP implementation teams.  Possible team objectives to assess include:
    1. Sharing information during meetings, via an email list serve, or on a webpage regarding project and program implementation to encourage agencies to coordinate resources.
    2. Discussing observations, findings and patterns of circumstances and contributing factors that lead to severe intersection crashes, allowing agencies to develop response plans.
    3. Sharing crash information about problem locations (e.g., locations with high total crash frequency, severe crash frequency, crash rates, etc.) to develop a coordinated response.
    4. Discussing agencies’ needs (e.g., selection of corridors where emergency vehicle preemption is added, locations to focus RLR enforcement, etc.)

4.5 Marketing Intersection Safety

Issues.  The 2007 FARS data reveal that 8,657 fatalities, out of the 41,059 total fatalities across the nation, occurred at intersections.  Yet, there is a lack of awareness by the traveling public and elected officials regarding the actual risks that accompany negotiating intersections, which often represent the most complex areas in the transportation system.  Redefining intersection safety as a public health problem and a quality of life issue is necessary to change the mindset of the public.  In doing so, the public can help provide the grass-roots support needed to fund and implement intersection safety programs, especially programs that may be currently controversial in some communities.

Agencies should consider a variety of material and techniques to communicate the problem to the public and elected officials, with the objective of increasing their awareness and changing their perceptions about intersection safety.  Educational messages may be provided in print, broadcast on radio or TV media, or through local presentations to community groups and schools.  Marketing intersection safety should also extend to other road users, such as pedestrians and bicyclists.  School children and the seniors should be targeted, because they may have higher risks when navigating an intersection as a pedestrian or bicyclist.


  1. Create a 5-year plan to develop and broadcast education messages.  This should include working with Congress to identify dedicated funding in the next transportation reauthorization.
  2. Establish a coalition of safety partners to create and maintain an on-line clearinghouse of intersection safety education materials.
    1. The clearinghouse should be easy to locate, accessible, and maintained with current information.  Material in the clearinghouse should address multiple audiences, including the public and specific audiences such as elected officials, high-risk drivers, and young or aging drivers.  The material should also consider the unique needs of different locations (urban versus rural) and types of traffic control (i.e., signalized, unsignalized, and roundabout).
    2. To use available resources effectively, work with the PBIC and others in the FHWA Office of Safety to jointly market intersection safety educational materials along with pedestrian safety intersection materials.
  3. Create new or enhance existing NHTSA Safe Community Programs to address local intersection safety problems.  Provide support and information to elected officials, agencies, and the general public.
  4. Fund local agencies for intersection safety marketing to develop grass-roots support for intersection programs and raise awareness.
  5. Identify an “intersection safety champion” to promote intersection safety programs and countermeasures and raise safety awareness.
  6. At statewide, regional, and national meetings and conferences, include an intersection safety message.
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Page last modified on September 4, 2014.
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