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FHWA Home / Safety / Local and Rural Road / Local and Rural Road Safety Briefing Sheets

Local and Rural Road Safety Briefing Sheets

Behavioral Safety Strategies for Drivers on Rural Roads

 

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U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
Office of Safety Logo: Safe Roads for a Safer Fugure

FHWA-SA-14-082

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Introduction

Consider the following 2012 statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS):

A number of risky driving behaviors contribute to rural road fatalities, including low use of safety belts, alcohol impaired driving, speeding, and being distracted or drowsy when driving. For example, in 2012, rural areas accounted for 54 percent of fatal alcohol-related crashes compared to 45 percent in urban areas. Furthermore, in 2012 a total of 54 percent of rural passenger vehicle occupants killed were unrestrained compared with 49 percent of urban passengers.

Local and rural road owners have a number of policies and programs available to address those driver behaviors that increase crash risk. This document describes the types of risky driving behaviors evident in rural areas and presents a summary of strategies that can be used to address these behaviors.

Behavior-based Safety Countermeasures

Countermeasures that Work1 includes a variety of data-driven strategies that address risky driving behaviors common to rural areas. The list below provides example strategies from this resource to address each of these behaviors.2

Increase Seatbelt Usage

Reduce Speeding and Aggressive Driving

Reduce Impaired Driving

Reduce Distracted Driving

Addressing risky driving behaviors requires the joint efforts of a number of stakeholders including law enforcement, engineering and public works, school officials, and health professionals. The strategies presented above include a range of education and enforcement actions designed to affect driving behavior. Some of these strategies may require passage of appropriate local laws (e.g., install speed advisory trailers, increased speed enforcement on locally owned roads) while others (e.g., mandatory ignition interlocks) might require State or Federal action. Each of these strategies is designed to bring about a change in traffic safety culture among the driver population.

Influencing Safety Culture

Traffic safety culture relates behaviors considered to be socially acceptable within a peer group, to group reactions to violations of these behaviors.3 Evidence suggests that differences in safety culture may explain variations with respect to driving behaviors among population groups.4 For example, because rural drivers tend to use seatbelts at a lower rate than urban drivers, it has been speculated that this is a reflection of a different standard of acceptable behavior. Safety professionals believe that strategies that shift cultural norms (i.e., majority perceptions of acceptable behavior) will have lasting impact, reducing risky driving behaviors such as speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving, and low seatbelt use.

Application of a safety culture concept represents a new model to support strategies affecting high-risk driving behaviors. Shifting the safety culture requires influencing the level of social acceptance of high-risk behaviors. Changing these norms necessitates the long-term commitment of leadership and the delivery of clear messages. Changes can take several generations; therefore, influencing young people can be critical. The "Most of Us Wear Seatbelts" Campaign conducted in Montana was the first statewide campaign using the social norms approach to increasing seatbelt use. The campaign was designed to increase the number of adults who wear their seatbelts and generated statistically significant results with regard to several measures of the target population's behaviors and perceptions after only one year.

For example, before the program, 85 percent of the respondents reported that they wore safety belts the last time they drove a vehicle. However, they estimated that 54 percent (the mean estimate) of typical Montana adults wore safety belts the last time they drove. After just one year of an intensive TV and radio media campaign, Montanans' perceptions of the frequency of safety belt use increased significantly. As these perceptions of safety belt use increased, so did reported safety belt use. Increases in safety belt use were seen across a variety of measures, including the frequency with which respondents reported: 1) wearing a safety belt at least 90 percent of the time, 2) always wearing a safety belt as a passenger, and 3) always making passengers wear safety belts when driving.5

Application of the safety culture concept offers the potential to address various driver behavioral challenges facing local and rural road owners. The Most of Us example demonstrates that policies and programs that target changes in underlying social norms may shift public perceptions regarding acceptable driving behaviors.

Resources

There are a number of resources available to support development of programs and policies to reduce high risk driving behaviors:

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2012 Traffic Safety Culture Index (Washington, DC: 2012).

J.L. Campbell, M.G. Lichty, J.L. Brown, C.M. Richard, J.S. Graving, J. Graham, et al. National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 600 – Human Factors Guidelines for Road Systems, Second Edition. (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 2012).

Federal Highway Administration, Developing Safety Plans: A Manual for Local Rural Road Users, FHWA-SA-12-017 (Washington, DC: March 2012)

NHTSA, Evaluation of the Most of Us Arizona High School Seatbelt Campaign (Washington, DC: 2008).

NHSTA, Traffic Safety Fact Sheets 2010 Data (Washington, DC: July 2012).

NHTSA, Countermeasures That Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Safety Offices (Washington, DC: 2011).

Transportation Research Board, NCHRP Report 500: – Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan; Volume 11: A Guide for Increasing Seatbelt Use (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 2005).

Transportation Research Board, National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 500, Vol. 16, Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan: A Guide for Reducing Alcohol-Related Collisions (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 2005).

Transportation Research Board, National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 500, Vol. 23: Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan: A Guide for Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 2005).

Transportation Research Board, National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 500 – Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan Volume 1: A Guide for Addressing Aggressive-Driving Collisions (Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, 2005)



1 NHTSA, Countermeasures That Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Safety Offices (Washington, DC: 2011).

2 A. Ceifetz, et.al., Developing Safety Plans: A Manual for Local Rural Road Users (Washington, DC: March 2012).

3 Western Transportation Institute, "White Paper on Traffic Safety Culture," White Paper No 2, July 2010. p. 1.

4 Ibid.

5 Montana State University, "Most of Us Wear Seatbelts Campaign" website. Available at: http://www.mostofus.org/mou_projects/most-of-us%c2%ae-wear-seatbelts-campaign-2002-2003/

Page last modified on November 19, 2014.
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