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Tools and Practices for System Wide Safety Improvement

4. Identification of Gaps

The gaps identified in this section highlight specific areas of improvement that must be addressed to move beyond the current state and toward achievement of the Safety Focused Decision Making Framework. Gaps have been categorized into two groups, current and anticipated gaps, which denote short- and long-term considerations. These areas of improvement have touch-points along each of the five steps that make up the Safety Focused Decision Making Framework, and are all interrelated. That is, it would be ineffective to focus on one category without also considering the others.

Current Gaps

The individual gaps that were identified throughout the course of this effort were grouped by theme. These themes, depicted in relative maturity ranking in Figure 6, include Performance Management of Safety Programs, Data, Communication and Knowledge Transfer, and Safety Planning. As each theme includes a litany of unique concerns, the Safety Focused Decision Making Framework is inextricably woven throughout. The following sub-sections describe the major themes and their associated maturity assignment as determined by examination of the supporting component elements. The maturity assignment range from least mature to most mature is shown in Figure 7:

Figure 7: Maturity Spectrum

red to green arrow


organization does not possess a stable implementation
environment; processes are ad hoc; no plan for interoperability or expandability


results of previous projects and the demands of the current project(s)/program may drive activities and actions; decisions are made on a case-by-case basis


organization uses standardized process; organization's standards tie to an adopted strategy; guidance and planning determine project outcomes


formal program management governs projects; processes are predictable and business rules are established; performance management exists


organization focuses on the continuous improvement; organization possesses the means to detect weaknesses and to proactively strengthen areas of concern

It is important to note that this project was not designed to complete a full organizational assessment where each organization was scored using a standard tool/rubric; instead, general maturity ratings were derived from stakeholder feedback sessions and assessments of current practices.

Performance Management of Safety Programs

Formalized performance management itself is institutionalized at varying levels of maturity among many states and MPOs with regard to their decision-making processes. Safety is often addressed in stand-alone projects, but setting performance targets and then measuring impacts across multiple projects/programs is not a common practice. Furthermore, safety is not addressed in an integrated fashion throughout planning, engineering, and operations and maintenance. The increased focus on performance based programs in MAP-21 may benefit safety programs because states and MPOs will be required to set targets and consider the impacts of their investment and strategy decisions toward achieving those targets. Figure 8 depicts a representative sample of the component elements of this capability that were examined to ultimately determine a "Managed" maturity assignment for Performance Management across the environment.

Figure 8: Performance Management Maturity Assignment

Figure 8: Performance Management Maturity Assignment


Collecting data to enhance the predictive abilities of safety planning tools has historically been a challenge. Robust data sets are not always readily available for many states and MPOs, and there is often a considerable time lag in the data that is available. Therefore, safety planners are often forced to use surrogate data or make critical decision with incomplete information.

The ability to use timely and robust data enhances organizational capabilities to prioritize projects and justify decisions throughout the safety planning lifecycle. Because crash data is often used to identify countermeasures for individual high crash locations, accurate geo-location data on all crash location and roadway features is needed. The added information on roadway features will help move toward system-wide safety planning rather than just focusing on crash "hot spots." Future data sets need to be expanded and linked to other non-traditional types of roadway and crash data (e.g., university research, hospital reports, National Studies Center) to provide a more holistic view of and approach to safety. Figure 9 depicts a representative sample of the component elements of this capability that were examined to ultimately determine a maturity assignment for the Data theme across the environment.

Figure 9: Data Maturity Assignment

Figure 9: Data Maturity Assignment

Communication and Knowledge Transfer

States and MPOs currently rely on both formal and informal communication channels for information, guidance, and best practices when it comes to the use of predictive tools over the course of safety planning activities. During the Safety Planning Peer Exchange, it was reported by several state and MPO safety planners that sheer volume of information/guidance available to them makes it difficult to down-select and prioritize projects. Additionally, many tools (e.g., SafetyAnalyst) and guidance documents (e.g., HSM) require additional training and/or data formatting before use.

Opportunities exist to improve the sharing of best practices among FHWA headquarters, states, and MPOs. The 9 Proven Countermeasures Memo is an example of effective knowledge transfer – simple and direct. Between states and MPOs, reporting requirements are often not formalized or leveraged to share successes, expand professional networks, and encourage knowledge transfer. That means that there are cases where the status quo continues to be accepted simply because no new perspectives have been introduced. This leads to stagnation and stifles innovative thinking. Increased collaboration is a cornerstone of FHWA's new Safety Focused Decision Making Framework, and MAP-21 will require increased coordination among all levels involved in safety planning (e.g., U.S. DOT headquarters, FHWA Division Offices, state DOTs, and MPOs). Figure 10 depicts a representative sample of the component elements of this capability that were examined to ultimately determine a maturity assignment for Communication and Knowledge Transfer across the environment.

Figure 10: Communication and Knowledge Transfer Maturity Assignment
Figure 10: Communication and Knowledge Transfer Maturity Assignment

Program Approach to Safety Planning

FHWA's Safety Focused Decision Making Framework was developed to directly address this gap. Currently, safety elements are not included as a required part of all roadway planning exercises. In order to reduce serious injuries and fatalities on our nation's roads, it makes sense to integrate safety planning as a consideration for every roadway project supporting every program. Additionally, there is an opportunity to enhance collaboration between safety planners and engineers, and coordination among all 4 Es. Furthermore, safety planners have noted that there is an opportunity to refine benefit/cost analysis methodologies. This is essential to their job as planners. They cite the limited ability to accurately predict effectiveness using currently available tools and processes. This means that not only do states and MPOs have to re-examine how they leverage safety planners within the scheme of their planning processes, but they also have to consider ways to innovate so that these planners have better tools at their disposal. Looking forward, MAP-21 requires additional coordination between two key planning exercises – the SHSP and the Highway Safety Plan required by NHTSA – and the integration of this information into the statewide and metropolitan long-range transportation planning process. Figure 11 depicts a representative sample of the component elements of this capability that were examined to ultimately determine a maturity assignment for the Program Approach to Safety Planning across the environment.

Figure 11: Program Approach to Safety Planning Maturity Assignment
Figure 11: Program Approach to Safety Planning Maturity Assignment

Anticipated Gaps

As the future of transportation safety planning is examined, and steps toward achieving the
Safety Focused Decision Making Framework are taken, there will be new challenges that present themselves. In attempting to predict where some of these challenges might arise, there are
several items to consider that will have bearing on the industry and its stakeholders.

Performance-Based Management of Safety Programs and MAP-21

As discussed throughout this report, establishing a performance-based management framework for safety programs is essential to achieving FHWA's Safety Focused Decision Making Framework. This emphasis is reinforced by the new MAP-21 legislation that was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012. Funding surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, MAP-21 is the first long-term highway authorization enacted since 2005.

MAP-21 is a milestone for the U.S. economy and the nation's surface transportation program. By transforming the policy and programmatic framework for investments to guide the system's growth and development, MAP-21 creates a streamlined and performance-based surface transportation program and builds on many of the roadway, transit, bike, and pedestrian programs and policies. It also focuses on strengthening America's roadway and public transportation systems by creating jobs, supporting economic growth and the Department's safety agenda, simplifying and focusing the federal program, accelerating project delivery, and promoting innovation.

The cornerstone of MAP-21's roadway program transformation is the transition to a performance and outcome-based program. Under MAP-21, performance management will transform federal roadway programs and provide a means to more efficient investment of federal transportation funds by focusing on national transportation goals, increasing the accountability and transparency of the federal roadway programs, and improving transportation investment decision making through performance-based planning and programming.

Safety planners at the state and local levels will be held accountable to the new standards set forth by this legislation. As stakeholders, states and MPOs will be consulted during the establishment of performance measures for pavement conditions and performance for the Interstate and national highway system (NHS), bridge conditions, serious injuries and fatalities, traffic congestion, on-road mobile source emissions, and freight movement on the Interstate System. States (and MPOs, where applicable) will be required to set performance targets in support of those measures, and state and metropolitan plans will describe how program and project selection will help achieve the targets. They will report to FHWA progress in achieving targets. If a state's report shows inadequate progress in some areas – the condition of the NHS or the safety measures – the state will be required to undertake corrective actions. In addition, states and MPOs will also be impacted by MAP-21's restructuring of core roadway formula programs (funding opportunities).

Funding and Resources

In a time of increasing budget constraints and scrutiny on spending, securing funding and resources for safety planning will become more difficult. Given that federal and state funding may be limited by economy, and not all transportation project funding includes a safety component, funding innovations and alternate sources of funding may help state and local transportation organizations maximize safety gains. As stated earlier, exploring new funding sources and alternatives to incorporate safety in infrastructure projects is especially important when transportation appropriations slow or decrease. As states and MPOs enhance their performance management processes, they are better positioned to demonstrate the success of their projects. By showing a clear link between projects and results, these transportation organizations may be better positioned to compete for limited funds.

Training and Continuous Learning Opportunities

State and MPO safety planners are not currently leveraging all available training resources at optimal rates. Due the broad spectrum of highly technical tools and guidance currently at their disposal, in conjunction with competing requests for time and attention, safety planners often feel over inundated and under prepared to identify those tools that will be most useful and employ them as a regimented part of their planning processes. With limited continuous learning opportunities that reflect the highly dynamic transportation environment, leveraging new tools and processes can be daunting.

As new predictive tools are developed, it logically follows that safety planners will need to be trained on how to use them. Addressing the skill gaps will be essential to the deployment and use of all new tools. In developing training, challenges must be addressed with regards to identifying necessary training for individual staff and/or applying "canned" guidance across the environment as a whole.

Key Takeaways

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Page last modified on October 29, 2014.
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