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FHWA Home / Safety / Speed Management / Management Approach to Highway Safety

A Compilation of Good Practices

  1. Purpose
    To provide general guidance for developing and implementing a management approach to highway safety. This safety approach will focus on four major areas:

    1. identify, investigate, set priorities, and correct hazardous or potentially hazardous roadway locations and features;
    2. ensure early consideration of safety improvements in all highway projects;
    3. maintain and upgrade safety hardware, highway elements and operational features; and
    4. identify safety needs of special user groups such as commercial motor vehicles, older drivers, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles and small passenger vehicles in the planning, design, construction and operation of the highway system.
  2. Background
    A comprehensive and coordinated highway management system could serve to improve the decisions made by highway agency managers. A management approach to highway safety will serve to eliminate or reduce existing and potential highway hazards and to reduce the number and severity of accidents on all roads where such a system is applied. The term Safety Management System (SMS), as used herein, refers to a management approach to highway safety.

    The SMS is not intended as a new or separate system but as an integral part of a comprehensive and coordinated highway management system.

    The Transportation Research Board conducted a conference in early November 1981 on the subject of "Enhancing Highway Safety through Engineering Management in an Age of Limited Resources." The conference recommendations were later developed into an AASHTO guide titled "A Guide For Enhancement of Highway Safety Directed to Agencies, Programs and Standards." Recommendations from this guide provided a basis for the management approach to highway safety.

  3. Scope
    The management approach to highway safety is designed to assure that safety aspects of highway decisions are timely and appropriate. This approach could serve both State and local highway agencies as a model for developing an SMS. Consideration should be given to the safety needs of small passenger cars, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, older drivers, rail-highway crossings, commercial motor vehicles and work zone traffic control.

  4. Key Elements
    There are numerous elements to aid decision making at various management levels. A management approach to highway safety includes eight key elements to ensure processes and programs of all four major areas identified in paragraph I are effectively coordinated and carried out.

    1. Goals
      Long- and short-term highway safety goals establish a means for resource allocation. Implementation of these goals is accomplished through a long-range program or "highway plan." This plan can be tailored to address both existing and anticipated problem locations as well as substandard highway designs and features.

      Emphasis is placed on specific goals which address safety problems identified at the statewide and national levels, such as commercial motor vehicles, older drivers, and high accident corridors. To improve the plan, specific and measurable activities should be evaluated and compared with established goals. Goals should be established early and be reflected in the budget process.
    2. Accountability. Accountability is an essential management tool for tracking implementation of highway plans and comparing progress with established goals.

      This is accomplished by defining the safety responsibilities in sufficient detail to identify the responsible unit or individual. Written and widely distributed responsibilities facilitate appropriate coordination.
    3. Training. Personnel with knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to carry out identified responsibilities are essential. To assure availability of personnel with desired KSAs, it is likely that a training program will be necessary. An ongoing training program includes:
      1. identification of KSAs required to carry out the safety responsibilities,
      2. determination of current training needs,
      3. assessment of future training needs, and
      4. development and implementation of the necessary multi-disciplinary training activities to meet these needs.

      It is equally important that personnel under contract to a highway agency have the essential KSAs identified for the tasks to be undertaken.

      Cross training with other disciplines and agencies is needed to understand and appreciate the responsibilities and duties of others such as the State's safety agencies and commercial motor vehicle safety.
    4. Monitoring and Evaluation. Design, operation, maintenance, and process reviews determine whether or not the safety processes and improvements are having the desired effects. These reviews identify the items on completed projects that should be modified on future designs and standards. Use of a multi-disciplinary team is encouraged to monitor and evaluate selected projects and processes. Monitoring and evaluation of selected projects within highway management functions will aid in identifying areas where management action would be beneficial.
    5. Integrated Database. An analysis of timely and accurate data is necessary to identify safety problems and to select and implement effective accident countermeasures.

      These analyses should include both continuing and emerging problems requiring management attention and resource allocation. Data files such as accidents, roadway, roadside, traffic control devices, traffic volumes, vehicles, and drivers can be linked for comprehensive analyses. Collection and use of property damage only accident data are desirable to provide the information needed to better support decisions.
    6. Safety Analysis. Safety analyses include accident and operational investigations. These analyses and comparisons of existing conditions and current standards can be used to assess highway safety needs, set priorities, and select accident countermeasures. The selection of accident countermeasures should be based on a comprehensive problem analysis including roadway, driver, and vehicle.
    7. Coordination. Infra- and inter-agency coordination will enhance the implementation and management of a comprehensive highway plan. Multi-disciplinary contributions to safety management will be enhanced through comprehensive coordination. This coordination will be encouraged by identifying highway safety related responsibilities of other agencies. Interagency coordination includes the sharing of information critical to important safety decisions. This coordination should include direct communication with the State's safety agencies.
    8. Technology and Information Exchange. Highway safety is an evolving field with new ideas being introduced on a continuing basis. Proactive research and technology and information exchange provide many opportunities for addressing changes and improving safety. A method to disseminate and monitor information, and incorporate effective results is a critical part of highway safety management. Research problems in safety should be sensitive to the changing needs and abilities of the highway users, particularly the unique needs of users such as commercial vehicle drivers, older drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclist.
  5. A Program for Identifying, Investigating. Setting Priorities and Correcting Hazardous or Potentially Hazardous Roadway Situations. Information which should prove useful in developing this program is contained in 23 CFR 924. This information sets forth a means of developing a comprehensive highway safety improvement program to identify and correct hazardous or potentially hazardous locations and elements on existing highways. Three components are identified:
    1. Planning - identify, investigate, analyze and set priorities. Intra-and inter-agency coordination should be conducted to include consideration of roadway, vehicle and driver countermeasures.
    2. Implementation - schedule and implement projects.
    3. Evaluation - conduct accident analyses to determinepr ojct/program effectiveness to improve future safety decisions.

    A means to identify and correct specific hazards on existing highways is a continuing need. There should also be a process established to address safety needs associated with small passenger cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, older drivers, rail-highway crossing, commercial motor vehicles, and work zones.

  6. A Process to Consider Safety Needs, Goals and Priorities in the Development and Construction of All Highway Facilities.
    This process is to ensure the early consideration of safety needs, goals, and priorities throughout the development and construction of all projects and activities. The identification and assignment of safety responsibilities to specific units is important, particularly when projects are developed by various units in the central office, field offices, and/or consultants.
    1. Pre-Desiqn. Responsibilities include identifying safety needs, analyzing potential enhancements and allocating resources.
      1. Project specific
        1. Identify Safety Needs
          • Analyze accident history
          • Compare current standards with existing conditions
          • Analyze ROW needs, design exceptions and environmental constraints
          • Identify and consider needs of all user groups
        2. Select Safety Improvements
          1. Identify alternative countermeasures
          2. Estimate and compare costs and benefits
        3. Prepare preliminary plans for traffic control in construction areas.
          • Traffic management
          • Incident management
          • Public information
          • Enforcement
        4. Allocate resources to assure estimate sufficiently includes needed safety work.
      2. Develop necessary statewide and/or areawide plans to address special user needs, such as National Truck Network, hazardous materials routing, and bicycle/pedestrian facility plans.
    2. Design. Design provides consistent and effective application of safety enhancements. Activities initiated in the pre-design phase can be expanded to include subsequently identified safety needs.
      1. Standards and Policies - The following is to provide the designer with essential design information:
        1. Geometric design criteria for each functional classification of highway.
        2. Roadside design criteria including clear zone and barrier policies.
        3. Traffic control devices and warrants (including control of traffic through work areas).
        4. Guideline for addressing truck, bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
        5. Ongoing feedback processes incorporating changes in design manuals, standard drawings, specifications and corresponding agency documents to assure obsolete details are upgraded or removed on a timely basis.
      2. Identification of Safety and Traffic Needs - The following procedures will assist the designer to identify safety and traffic needs and use this information in the design of individual projects.
        1. Investigate and analyze project accident histories and other data sources.
        2. Identify potentially hazardous roadway, roadside, and operational features located on and adjacent to the proposed project. (This typically entails an on-site field review with multi-disciplinary personnel.)
        3. Identify roadway, roadside, and operational features not to current standards within the proposed project and discuss methods to be used in evaluating substandard features.
        4. Identify, compare and select alternative safety enhancements.
        5. Maintain records of design exceptions including all evaluations and decisions.
        6. Review all project plans, specifications and estimates for compliance with current policies, standards and specifications just before advertisement.
    3. Construction. During the construction phase, adequate and proper measures should be taken to provide for the protection of the workers and the highway users. This includes the proper location and installation of safety and operational features. The construction stage provides the opportunity to visually assess safety design and to assure that safety improvements are incorporated.

      Public awareness campaigns can be effectively utilized in conjunction with construction activities. The following procedures are suggested in providing construction personnel with the necessary decision-making information.
      1. Initiate early and continual coordination of work zone traffic safety with other agencies, such as emergency medical services and traffic law enforcement, throughout the life of the project. Also discuss the handling of possible safety enhancements identified during construction.
      2. Provide for work zone traffic safety as required in applicable Federal and State regulations. Immediate evaluation and resolution of accidents and operational problems are essential. In addition, routine day and night inspections are needed.
      3. Field review to ensure safety hardware is appropriate for existing field conditions.
      4. Close coordination should be maintained with design and traffic personnel when making additions or changes in location or application of safety hardware or features.
      5. Communication should be maintained between field and office personnel to facilitate input, feedback, and information transfer for modifications to standards and future projects.
      6. Newly constructed or installed safety hardware and features should be checked to ensure proper installation, type, size, and location.
  7. A Process for Maintaining and Upgrading Existing Safety Hardware, Highway Elements and Operations "I Features.

    Maintenance and operational activities provide an opportunity to enhance safety. This can be accomplished by maintaining and upgrading hardware, highway elements, and operational features. Operational features include traffic control devices. Public awareness campaigns can be effectively used in conjunction with these types of activities.
    1. Maintenance. To make the necessary decisions, maintenance personnel should have certain information. The following procedures are suggested for providing that information.
      1. Identify and report damaged or missing safety hardware, highway elements, and operational devices and features.
      2. Identify, locate and report obsolete, substandard or nonfunctional hardware, highway elements, and operational features.
      3. Establish priorities and response times for inspecting, repairing, upgrading or replacing in-kind damaged hardware, highway elements and operational features.
      4. Develop temporary or emergency actions to mitigate the effects of damaged hardware, highway elements, and operational features.
      5. Provide and implement work zone traffic control plans for all maintenance activities.
      6. Provide timely response for low cost safety improvements.
      7. Conduct routine inspection and maintenance of hardware, highway elements, and operational features to assure proper performance.
    2. Operational. Operational activities provide an opportunity to enhance safety by detecting and correcting unsafe traffic operations. These unsafe operations may be caused by deficiencies in geometric design features, traffic control devices, or other related factors. The following operational procedures are suggested:
      1. Issue permits for utility work and changes in access control with appropriate consideration of safety aspects. Policies and procedures for utility accommodations and access controls may assist in addressing the safety aspects.
      2. Identify and mitigate operational hazards, including environmental elements such as fog, etc.
      3. Provide traffic engineering expertise to develop traffic control plans and programs.
      4. Monitor and adjust traffic control devices.
      5. Monitor and improve commercial vehicle operations (permits, weigh-in-motion, etc.)
      6. Provide traffic engineering expertise to assist in planning to route and control traffic for special events.
      7. Develop and implement incident management plans.

December 20, 1991

Page last modified on April 1, 2019
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