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Rural Health Information Hub

Road Safety Models

This model includes strategies to lower traffic speeds and volume in order to improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) users who share the road with cars and other motorized vehicles. Programs and policies to improve road safety can take many forms and may need to be adapted to meet the needs of individual rural communities.

In addition to higher rates of collisions between 2 or more people and/or vehicles, rural areas also experience higher rates of fatal single-vehicle crashes. Single-vehicle crashes can occur when a vehicle leaves the road unintentionally, often due to poor driving conditions, high speeds, alcohol impairment, or crashes due to animals or fallen trees on the roadway. Installing road safety features to prevent vehicles from leaving their lane or requiring a decrease in speeds can help to reduce the rates of both single and multi-vehicle collisions.

Traffic calming techniques seek to lower traffic speeds and volume through strategic design elements built into roads and intersections. Some of these strategies include implementing “road diets,” or limiting the number and width of traffic lanes; installing improved signage, including visible pedestrian signals; and introducing speed humps to control traffic speeds. There is evidence to suggest that traffic calming measures reduce traffic speed and crashes, increase active transportation, and increase pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Examples of Road Safety Models

  • Complete Streets policies strive to improve pedestrian, bicyclist, motorist, and transit rider safety by implementing street networks that ensure the “entire right of way” for all road users. This approach to urban planning requires routine monitoring and updates of roadways to improve usability and safety. Complete Streets policies are adaptable and can be modified to meet the needs of rural communities. There is strong evidence suggesting that Complete Streets and other street design initiatives increase physical activity and increase pedestrian and cyclist safety.
  • Vision Zero is a transportation policy that aims to eliminate traffic fatalities through changes to traffic infrastructure, better enforcement of traffic laws, and improved public education on traffic safety measures. While initially introduced in large urban areas, Vision Zero has been expanded to rural areas and adopted as a statewide policy, such as North Carolina's Vision Zero program.
  • Applying High Friction Surface Treatments (HFST) can increase surface friction, making skidding and crashes less likely. Some rural areas have used HFST to improve safety in high crash areas, such as mountainous terrain and road corridors with sharp turns. For example, after Kentucky implemented HFST in rural Appalachia, the state reported a 69% decrease in crashes and fatalities on treated highways.

Considerations for Implementation

When making plans to implement a road diet, Complete Streets intervention, or other road treatments, planners may be able to obtain significant cost savings by integrating new projects into existing plans for road resurfacing and maintenance events. Repainting as part of routine maintenance can be an opportunity to carry out desired lane reconfigurations.

Community support for road diets and other reductions in traffic lanes or speed limits may be mixed. Residents may be concerned about longer travel times or increased traffic volume. In order to build community support, planners can identify similar projects in other communities and share information about potential impacts including reductions in collisions between cars and pedestrians, bicyclists, or other vehicles. Information can be shared at town halls and at community events.

Decisions about infrastructure priorities and policies are often made at the state level rather than by local communities. Programs should be prepared to advocate for their communities' unique needs with state officials and consider partnering with other state offices to gain support for their work.

Resources to Learn More

Complete Streets Basic Resources
This site includes a compilation of resources to support communities interested in learning about and implementing Complete Streets policies. It covers benefits like increased economic revitalization, decreased burden of gas prices, improved safety, and increased accessibility for people with disabilities.
Organization(s): Smart Growth America

Crash Modification Factors Clearinghouse
The website allows users to estimate the number of crash incidents before and after implementing various safety countermeasures.
Organization(s): Federal Highway Administration, University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center

Proven Safety Countermeasures
This site gives an overview of the nine proven safety countermeasures for use in reducing highway fatalities and injuries.
Organization(s): Federal Highway Administration Office of Safety Programs

Traffic Calming on Main Roads Through Rural Communities
This brief gives a summary of evaluation efforts on several traffic calming measures implemented in multiple rural communities.
Author(s): Krammes, R. & Sheldahl, E.
Organization(s): Federal Highway Administration
Date: 2/2009