You are here

Improve Roadway Safety

In 2013, 32,719 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes and 2.3 million people were injured, according to U.S. DOT (U.S. DOT, 2014). The cost of medical care and productivity losses associated with injuries from motor vehicle crashes exceeded $80 billion in 2010 (CDC WISQARS, 2010). Improved roadway safety can reduce the number and severity of crashes on U.S. roadways, reduce injuries and fatalities, reduce health care costs, and thereby improve the public’s health.

Transportation-related safety efforts and programs may include work that aims for safer vehicles, safer users (e.g., pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, passengers, motorcyclists), safer roads, or any combination of these. Data-driven, methodical approaches to improve roadway safety traditionally focus on the five Es: engineering, education, enforcement, emergency medical services, and evaluation, according to U.S. DOT (U.S. DOT, 2009). These approaches may include road safety audits, speed management, geometric design, and safety performance measurement and evaluation, or various other strategies and combinations of strategies.

Safety programs and initiatives may focus on more localized and precise needs, such as reduced red-light running, increased data-sharing and linkage and analyses among partner organizations, improved intersection safety at high-crash locations, and increased education and outreach to specific vulnerable populations (e.g., children, older adults, limited English proficiency audiences).

Related Transportation and Heath Tool Indicators

How can this strategy result in health benefits?

  • Improve accessibility to healthy food, public transportation, jobs, etc.
  • Improve equity
  • Increase physical activity
  • Improve safety
  • Reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities

How has this worked in practice?

Clackamas County (OR) Combined Road Safety Audit and Health Impact Assessment

In 2014, Clackamas County, Oregon, conducted a combined road safety audit and health impact assessment on a five-lane, high-use, multi-modal corridor. The Oregon Public Health Institute, the Clackamas County Public Health Department, and the Clackamas County Department of Transportation and Development worked together on the effort. The health impact assessment summarized the likely community health effects for each proposed roadway crash safety solution in the audit. It considered potential changes in opportunities for physical activity, exposure to air and noise pollution, and access to health-supportive resources and destinations, such as jobs and schools. The health impact assessment team also provided a set of recommendations for future road safety audits.

Where can I learn more?

The FHWA Office of Safety website highlights programs and initiatives that work to improve roadway safety. The site includes fundamental information about safety tools and strategies, funding, emerging approaches and technologies, events, and news updates, with a focus on engineering.

NHTSA provides various resources for planning and developing improved driver education, enforcement, and related efforts that aim to improve roadway safety.

The Bicycle & Pedestrian Program of the FHWA Office of Human Environment provides extensive safety-focused bicycle and pedestrian resources and guidance.

The CDC’s Injury Prevention & Control, Motor Vehicle Safety website includes resources on topics ranging from safety for older adult drivers to safety for pedestrians and motorcycle safety. It also has state data, cost and policy information. Within that website are the CDC’s Motor Vehicle Safety Costs pages, which include information on cost data and prevention policies.

SafetyLit is a bibliographic database of scholarly research in the broad field of injury prevention and safety promotion. It is managed in cooperation with the San Diego State University College of Health & Human Services and the World Health Organization’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention.

Evidence base

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2010.

Dumbaugh E, Li W. Designing for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists in urban environments. Journal of the American Planning Association 2010;77(1):69-88.

Ewing R, Schieber RA, Zegeer CV. Urban Sprawl as a Risk Factor in Motor Vehicle Occupant and Pedestrian Fatalities. American Journal of Public Health 2003;93:1541-1545. 

Goodwin A, Sandt B, Hall W, Thomas L, O’Brien N, Summerlin D. Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasure guide for state highway safety offices, 7th edition. Washington, DC: NHTSA, U.S. DOT; 2013.

Morency P, Gauvin L, Plante C, Fournier M, Morency C. Neighborhood Social Inequalities in Road Traffic Injuries: The Influence of Traffic Volume and Road Design. American Journal of Public Health 2012;102(6):1112-1119.

National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP). NCHRP Synthesis 436: Local Policies and Practices that Support Safe Pedestrian Environments: A Synthesis of Highway Practice. Transportation Research Board; 2012.

Retting RA, Ferguson SA, McCartt AT. A review of evidence-based traffic engineering measures designed to reduce pedestrian-motor vehicle crashes. American Journal of Public Health 2003;93(9):1456-63.

Satariano W, Guralnik JM, Jackson RJ, Marottoli RA, Phelan EA, Prohaska TR. Mobility and Aging: New Directions for Public Health Action. American Journal of Public Health 2012;102:508–1515.

U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT). 2013 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview. Traffic Safety Facts. Research Notes; DOT HS 812 101; 2014. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812101.pdf.

Potts IB, Hutton JM, Harwood DW. Strategic Intersection Safety Program Guide. U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration; 2009.  http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/resources/fhwasa09004/fhwasa09004.pdf.

Updated: Monday, October 26, 2015
Submit Feedback >