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Safety Considerations

Safety is a key consideration for building, implementing, and maintaining transportation systems and programs in rural areas. Several safety concerns are more pronounced in small towns and rural communities. In addition, rural areas continue to have a higher crash and traffic fatality rate compared to urban areas. A disproportionate number of deaths occur on rural roads, with fatalities occurring at a rate three times higher than on non-rural roads. Rates of motor vehicle-related deaths have decreased over the past ten years, but rural parts of the country have seen a slower decline and continue to experience more crashes than metropolitan areas.

Several elements of rural roads may make them less safe than urban roads, including the design of the roads (narrow shoulders and lanes), limited signage, and higher speed limits. The majority of transportation-related deaths and injuries are linked to personal vehicles and pedestrian-related accidents. In comparison, using public transit systems and modes of transportation such as buses and trains are linked to fewer injuries and deaths. For example, in 2014, there were only five deaths attributed to transportation on a rural transit system.

Policies and practices should be implemented to improve safety of program staff as well as all transit riders. Safety policies should be a component of all transportation workforce trainings, and should be posted publicly for all riders to read.

Resources to Learn More

Growing Traffic in Rural America: Safety, Mobility and Economic Challenges in America's Heartland
Document
This report analyzes the state of America's rural roads and provides statistics on traffic accidents and fatalities. It further details improvements states have made to improve traffic safety and other recommendations to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities.
Organization(s): The Road Information Program (TRIP)
Date: 3/2005

Improving Safety on Rural Local and Tribal Roads: Safety Toolkit
Document
This report guides outlines areas for improvement in rural road safety, suggests methods for developing countermeasures to improve safety outcomes, and processes for evaluating the effectiveness of the implemented safety measures.
Author(s): Wemple, E. & Colling, T.
Organization(s): Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
Date: 8/2014

Integrating Safety in the Rural Transportation Planning Process
Document
This report provides an overview of safety considerations and integration methods for transportation program planning.
Author(s): Waldheim, N., Herbel, S., & Kissel, C.
Organization(s): Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
Date: 11/2014

Planning for Transportation in Rural Areas
Website
This website tool allows transportation planners in rural areas to understand the key challenges and opportunities found in building rural transportation systems, with special consideration to safety planning within the development phase of the project.
Organization(s): Federal Highway Administration; U.S. Department of Transportation

Principles for Improving Transportation Options in Rural and Small Town Communities
Document
This whitepaper report offers a holistic approach to improving transportation safety in rural and small town communities through different principles on infrastructure building and development projects. The principles are evidenced by case studies of successful programs in rural transportation from throughout the country.
Author(s): Shoup, L. & Homa, B.
Organization(s): Transportation for America
Date: 3/2010