The Federal Highway Administration is working with State departments of transportation, Local Technical Assistance Program centers, and local agencies across the country to combat this issue. Under the Every Day Counts initiative called Focus on Reducing Rural Roadway Departures (FoRRRwD), the team is promoting further use of proven strategies to reduce rural roadway departures. Many agencies are using these strategies and seeing positive results. The efforts of these agencies are getting more people home safely.

A Far-Reaching Problem Requires A Comprehensive Approach

The FoRRRwD approach is based on four pillars. The first article in this series (see “Moving FoRRRwD: Focus on Reducing Rural Roadway Departures” in the Autumn 2020 issue of Public Roads) focused on the scope of the problem and the first two pillars–all public roads and the implementation of a systemic safety approach. This article focuses on the other two pillars–the countermeasures recognized to reduce rural roadway departures and the development and implementation of safety action plans.

Proven Countermeasures

There are many cost-effective countermeasures shown to reduce rural roadway departures. When properly applied, they can significantly reduce serious and fatal crashes.

Although rural roads are extremely diverse, from multilane highways to gravel roads, there are countermeasures demonstrated to fit most situations. For example, edge line markings are effective at reducing roadway departures, but they cannot be installed on gravel or dirt roads. However, delineators can be used instead on these roads and accomplish a similar goal. Other treatments are more complex, but any agency can find some method to improve their roadways. If improving entire corridors is not practical, focusing on curves might be appropriate, since 42 percent of rural roadway departure fatalities occur at horizontal curves. The FHWA guide Low-Cost Treatments for Horizontal Curve Safety 2016 (FHWA-SA-15-084) provides information on the application and benefits of many countermeasures.

The proven countermeasures are organized around three objectives for reducing rural roadway departure deaths and serious injury crashes. In priority order, these are: (1) Keep vehicles in their lane, (2) Reduce potential for crashes when vehicles leave their lane, and (3) Minimize severity if a crash occurs. There are specific countermeasures that apply to each objective (

Keep Vehicles in Their Lane

An infographic illustrating the process for developing a local road safety plan, moving through the steps of identifying stakeholders, using safety data, choosing proven solutions, and implementing solutions. Source: FHWA.

The primary objective is to prevent drivers from leaving their travel lane. Another term for roadway departure is lane departure, which also includes crossing the center line. Once a driver departs the lane onto the roadside or across the center line into oncoming traffic, the likelihood of a severe crash rises dramatically.

Safety action plans have many benefits. A plan enhances the awareness of stakeholders about the need to tackle rural roadway departure crashes. In developing the plan, agencies establish partnerships that can be further leveraged for implementation.Safety action plans, such as statewide roadway departure action plans or local road safety plans, provide a framework to identify, analyze, and prioritize roadway safety improvements. The process for developing these plans is flexible and can be easily tailored to specific agency issues and needs.

Plans can also be a communication tool to explain investment decisions to staff, leadership, and the public. By documenting data analysis, recommendations, and implementation strategies, the plan explains the project prioritization–why particular projects need to be done at certain locations and in what order. In addition, a plan may help an agency compete for additional funding in some instances and provides a yardstick to measure the agency’s efforts.

“Our safety plan has been a catalyst to bring all our stakeholders together with one vision,” says Craig Parks, the former county engineer for Boone County, IN. “We included law enforcement, public health, and elected officials. When we all looked at the plan together, they really understood that we were making data-driven decisions, and all of us had a part to play in getting people home safely each day.”

Another benefit of having an action plan is that it can survive staff turnover. As people move in and out of an agency, the plan provides a consistent path to guide those who were not there when it was developed.

Plans are also scalable, and can be customized to an agency’s needs and priorities. They are not one size fits all. Some agencies’ plans are just a few pages. Others comprise more than 100 pages. The plan depends on what the agency’s individual needs are and what it is trying to accomplish.

Implementation Is Required

Safety action plans are proven to work if they are implemented. It is critical that agencies commit to seeing the improvements identified in their plans become a reality–the reason someone makes it home safely today. To get the most out of a safety action plan, agencies should consider aligning the plan with existing priorities, engaging maintenance staff, including implementation strategies, and marketing.

Align the plan with existing priorities. Every State has a strategic highway safety plan (SHSP) that outlines safety issues to be addressed statewide. As much as possible, match safety projects in the safety action plan with SHSP priorities. This can build support for the plan. However, these priorities may need to be adjusted based on an agency’s own data.

Engage maintenance staff. Many times, operations and maintenance staff form the front line of local agencies. Include maintenance staff in the development of local road safety plans. They can then be proactive in installing low-cost countermeasures identified from the plan during their routine work.

Include implementation strategies. Along with the locations where countermeasures will be effective, include strategies to cost-effectively implement them in the plan. Strategies might include maintenance staff performing the work, bundling projects with similar treatments into a single contract, or installing countermeasures during other planned work in those corridors.

Market the plan. Be intentional with marketing and outreach. Marketing safety is especially important when developing a local road safety plan. Know the stakeholders and target the message to the specific audience. Add it to the agenda in formal meetings, but also bring it up in conversation. Talk about the benefits consistently to bring as many people as possible into the process, across diverse functional areas and even other agencies. Consistent marketing builds buy-in.

Help Is Available

Through the FoRRRwD effort, agencies looking to develop or implement safety action plans can request technical assistance on any aspect of plan development. Examples of technical assistance provided include:

  • Helping to form a stakeholder group.
  • Conducting data analysis for agencies.
  • Providing or customizing tools for agencies to analyze their own data.
  • Identifying potential countermeasures based on risk factors, target crash types, and target facility types from the analysis.
  • Developing timelines and goals for implementation.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of countermeasures already installed.

FHWA has launched a new Local Road Safety Plan Do-it-Yourself website at to help local agencies. The site includes video content to explain and demonstrate the steps of the planning process and offers dozens of tips, tutorials, resources, and examples. The site houses previously developed infographics, templates, videos, presentations, webinars, training modules, and tools, as well as featured interviews with State and local agencies that have been engaged in developing local road safety plans across the country. For more information, see “Internet Watch” on page 45 in this issue.