Safety Sidekick Newsletter

Vol. 17
December 2019
The Rural Safety Center is excited to be starting our 6th year and looking forward to rolling out several new programs and events for rural road safety. You can read more about what we have planned, in the article on our stakeholder meeting. We would also encourage you to follow us on social media to stay up to date on recently released resources, the most up to date information on our upcoming 3rd Rural Safety Summit, as well as, information on traffic safety awareness weeks/months such as December's National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. You can find us on Facebook @ ruralroadsafety and LinkedIn @ national-center-for-rural-road-safety.
In this volume of the newsletter, you will also see a list of the safety sessions that will be held at the annual TRB meeting in January, recently released resources, a spotlight on the National Safety Council, a noteworthy practice featuring the US Forest Service, and a noteworthy practice featuring Michigan DOT.


Jaime Sullivan
Center Director
National Center for Rural Road Safety
In This Issue
Safety Center Update
Stakeholder Group Meeting Welcomes New Members

On December 2nd, the National Center for Rural Road Safety convened a Stakeholder Group Meeting to bring together the team and its advisory group of safety representatives from across the country. Representing multiple disciplines, the Stakeholder Group offers guidance on activities and also provides the Center with status updates from the regions and organizations they represent. New additions to the Stakeholder Group are
Patrick Hoye, Adam Larsen, Carrie Kissel, Erin Sauber-Schatz, and Amy Schumacher.
Their participation expands participation for the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau at the Iowa Department of Public Safety, FHWA Office of Tribal Transportation, NADO Research Foundation, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, respectively.

This most recent meeting focused on what Year Six of the program will look like. Projected activities, shaped by input from the Center's Technical Panel and Stakeholder Group, include the third in a series of Rural Safety Summits, development of a national Rural Road Safety Day, and continuation of in-person trainings and webinars. The Road Safety Champion Program will also be deployed in 2020.

The Center team is looking forward to a productive sixth year.

As always, the Center will have a strong focus on safety education and outreach. New training workshops are on the way. Reading the Road in both a one-hour and two-hour version, Introduction to Safety Analysis and Take Action Now are just some of what will be available in the very near future. The Center website will soon have an area dedicated to Local Road Safety Plans, expanding the resources conveniently available to local public agencies.

National Safety Council - Bringing Safety Leadership and Resources to the Community

The National Safety Council's (NSC) commitment to safety is exemplified in its broad and ambitious mission to "eliminate preventable deaths at work, in home and communities, and on the road." At the national level, the Council leads important research efforts to identify risks and collect safety statistics, creates effective education programs and training tools, and engages networks of safety advocates.

For road safety, NSC has been an important leader and partner in the implementation of numerous national campaigns and initiatives to reduce roadway injuries and fatalities, such as  Alive at 25, Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and Road to Zero. (See our spotlight on Road to Zero  here). Its custom resources - like the  DriveitHome toolkit for parents of teen drivers - is distributed across the country. The NSC also created the Survivor Advocate Network, a community of individuals whose lives were changed through crashes involving risky behaviors such as impaired or distracted driving, and who are willing to educate others by sharing their stories.

Professional Truck Driver is a NSC program designed to train drivers of commercial vehicles on best practices and strategies for safe and legal alternative choices when dealing with hazardous situations and risky driving conditions - like wintery roads.

To reach more people with its safety information and resources, the NSC relies on 24 state and regional chapters. The chapters host events, offer training, and provide safety expertise at the community level. For example, the  Wyoming/Montana Safety Council offers a series of defensive driving courses to improve the safe driving skills of students, workers, professional truck drivers, and the general public. The popular Road Smart Skid Car training class includes hands-on training in a specially modified vehicle that can mimic a skid in a controlled environment. "With the help of an instructor, participants learn important skills regarding spacing, maneuvering and speed control, so they can react appropriately and calmly if their car enters a skid," said Amy Thomas, Executive Director of the Wyoming Montana Safety Council "Both new and experienced drivers get a lot out of it - sometimes several members from one family will take it together."

In some more rural areas, like Wyoming, where Driver's Education is no longer offered by the local school districts, community partners, like the Wyoming Montana Safety Council step in to also provide that much needed training for the communities they serve. The course is a 30-hour classroom course which teaches all of the basics for a new driver to feel confident and prepared on the roads. The behind-the-wheel driving portion of the class includes practice and training on a wide array of driving maneuvers.

For more information about NSC resources, trainings, events, and activities, visit the  NSC website or contact one of the  NSC chapters .

Noteworthy Practices
USDA Forest Service Offers Hands-on Safety Assessment Workshops for Road Managers

In a National Forest, road managers must provide a safe transportation system for visitors and staff, while also addressing unique challenges such as preserving fragile resources or working in remote locations.

To help engineers and operational staff learn and improve these specialized skills, the Forest Service created a week-long workshop on Road Safety, hosted annually. The workshop features a "hands-on" approach, in which participants conduct road assessments on actual Forest Service roads.

Participants, generally limited to about 20 per workshop, travel to a national forest where they are assigned to teams and road assessment projects. On the first day, they receive initial training on specific topics such as signage, human factors, and curve studies, as well as the process for conducting a safety assessment. On the following day, each team goes to their first road assessment and begins to identify potential safety problems at the site, document data, and develop a report that includes recommended actions. Daily debriefs are conducted with the full group to share what they learned, and then they are re-assigned to a new team and a new road for the next day.

Since 2017, USFS has hosted four of these workshops, serving more than 85 employees, including representatives from other federal agencies like FHWA, USACE, FWS, and BLM. "Our main goal is to help road managers develop their awareness of road safety issues and their ability to determine when mitigation is needed," said Ann Marie Verde, USFS Road Operations and Maintenance Program Manager; "we want them to develop key skills that they can take home to their own unit and put to use when they observe a potential safety issue."

The program has received great feedback from attendees, who appreciate the opportunity to receive focused training from safety specialists in a field environment. For more information about these workshops, please contact Rob Gillispie, USDA Forest Service, at 202-572-1649 or at

Local Safety Projects in Michigan Can Call on MDOT for Technical Support

Many local road agencies have locations that they suspect are safety hotspots, but they lack the time, data, or expertise to thoroughly assess the problem and evaluate potential solutions.  In Michigan, the Department of Transportation (MDOT) offers free technical services that can help local agencies move from a safety project "wish list" to a data-backed plan for site specific projects.

Through the "Local Safety Initiative (LSI)," locals can enroll with MDOT to request a variety of assessment services, including a crash analysis, a field visit and a comprehensive write-up.  The field review will help identify possible locations for safety countermeasures and identify projects that can be funded through existing funding programs.

Launched in 2004, the Initiative has partnered with 124 counties and 33 villages/cities.   One county, after the LSI field review, installed dual Stop Ahead and dual Stop signs on over 200 intersections. This resulted in a 40% reduction in all crashes at these intersections after installation. 

MDOT views the initiative as an important component of moving toward its Toward Zero Deaths goals. "In Michigan our local agencies are responsible for daily maintenance and operations of hundreds of miles of roads. Having MDOT offer to look at the crash data, meet with the agencies and talk about safety countermeasures adds an unbiased view of the operation of the roadways. If we can provide this service that makes it possible to implement proven safety measures, then everyone who uses Michigan roads wins," said Stephen Shaughnessy, Safety Programs Unit Manager.

Local agencies in Michigan that are interested in enrolling in the Local Safety Initiative can send an email to

Additional information is also available on the  Local Safety Initiative webpage.

Getting to Zero Together: A National Safety Engineers Peer Exchange
Reprinted with permission from: Karen Y. Scurry, P.E., FHWA Office of Safety, and Kim Eccles, P.E., VHB

On July 9, 10, and 11, nearly 200 State Safety Engineers, FHWA, and American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) staff, and guests gathered together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for a National Safety Engineers Peer Exchange. The peer exchange was jointly hosted by FHWA and AASHTO with the theme, Getting to Zero Together. The purpose of the peer exchange was to provide a forum for States to discuss and share ideas on various highway safety topics.

Representatives from 48 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico attended the peer exchange. The peer exchange provided an opportunity for these safety practitioners to:
  • Advance the current state-of-the-practice for the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) and related safety programs.
  • Increase technical capacity in FHWA safety priority areas.
  • Provide support to States working to improve HSIP management, strategies, and countermeasure selections.
The opening plenary session set the stage for the peer exchange by providing an overview of the three national zero initiatives - Road to Zero, Towards Zero Deaths, and Vision Zero, as well as a State perspective on the relationship between these initiatives and the State's Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) and HSIP. Jane Terry from the National Safety Council presented Road to Zero, and Michelle May from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) discussed AASHTO's Towards Zero Deaths program, both providing a national perspective. Jane encouraged the audience to "double down on what works," and Michelle challenged the audience to work toward zero with an innovative mindset by remembering that, "Good ideas are crazy-until they're not." Ryan Anderson from the City of Minneapolis provided a local perspective and discussed Minneapolis's efforts to implement Vision Zero. Brad Estochen from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) drew together the themes from the other three presentations and discussed how Minnesota has made progress in the last few years through working with local agencies and using the SHSP to drive change. He also challenged the audience to try new approaches to improving highway safety and noted that, "There is no failure, only feedback."

Following the plenary session, the participants broke out into discussion sessions that followed four technical tracks: safety management, countermeasure success stories, measuring and communicating the impact of the safety program, and data-driven safety analysis. State DOT participants presented on efforts in their States to begin each discussion session. Across each track, many themes emerged from these discussions, including obligation limits and authority, improving the project application and selection process for the HSIP, working with partners to turn strategic plans into actionable projects, data access and the role of transparency in increasing collaboration, communicating and educating the public and partners in highway safety efforts, and the relationship between the HSIP and the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.
A major theme of the conference was the importance of communication-particularly with stakeholders without technical backgrounds. In the breakout session on intersections, Robert Miles, Utah DOT's Director of Traffic Safety, counseled the audience, "You must engage with the public-early, often, and more than you are comfortable doing. If you specifically choose to serve people, you will need to talk to them, hold their hands, and bring them along."

The day two plenary session featured the safe systems approach to highway safety. Invited speaker Dr. Blair Turner, the Chief Technology Leader for Transport Safety at the Australian Road Research Board, discussed the Safe System and Vision Zero approach in Australia. He discussed the key principles of the safe systems approach and provided his insights on the supporting activities needed to ensure successful implementation. He noted that, "To get to zero deaths and serious injuries, we have to acknowledge that people make mistakes and embrace the shared responsibility and cultural shift needed to make real change." He discussed the opportunities created by working across all "pillars" (i.e., safe roads, safe road users, safe vehicles, safe speed, and post-crash care) and allowing innovation in approaches and policies. This cultural shift means moving from blaming the drivers to accepting the shared responsibility, focusing on elimination of fatal and serious injury crashes instead of all crashes, proactively identifying risk instead of reacting to crashes, and approaching our work from a systems approach instead of within individual pillars. Following Blair's presentation, John Milton, the Washington State Safety Engineer, and Brian Mayhew, the North Carolina State Traffic Safety Engineer, provided their perspectives on the application of the safe systems approach in the United States. Brian discussed the importance of speed management and kinetic energy management in preventing fatal crashes, which is particularly a concern on the rural roadways in North Carolina. He encouraged his peers to include the whole zero in their approach, noting that many zero deaths efforts in the United States today have focused on primarily pedestrian and bicycle crashes and have missed an opportunity to make progress across all fatal crash types. John shared that Washington was the first State to develop an SHSP with a zero fatality vision in 2000. At the time, he was heavily criticized for setting an "unattainable" vision but he noted, "I would rather have failed at trying to achieve zero than to never have tried."

After the plenary panel, the participants broke out into more discussion sessions following the four technical tracks. In the afternoon of day two, the participants met with other States in their geographic regions, dividing into four regions-South, North, West, and Mid-America. During these regional discussions, the States posed questions to one another sharing best practices and discussing approaches to overcome shared challenges. Examples of topics discussed included preparing for automated vehicles, data concerns in network screening, addressing wrong-way driving crashes, using specific strategies (e.g., rumble strips, safety edge, wider pavement markings, or high-friction surface treatment), and the project letting process. All of the regions expressed sincere interest in finding more ways to connect, share best practices, and meet regularly as a region. Beyond the discussion session, participants also exchanged information in the Collaboration Corner. States and FHWA brought publications and materials to share with their peers. The Collaboration Corner also included a selfie station and an interactive roundabout display. In addition to exchanging information with one another, the State representatives provided input to FHWA staff on topics such as marketing and communication, training, the FHWA Focused Approach to Safety, and the Railway-Highway Crossing Program.

The closing session for day two looked to the future. What will the challenges be in five years, ten years, and beyond and what actions do we need to take today to prepare for those challenges? Three panelists-Joey Hartmann, the acting FHWA Associate Administrator for Safety; Mike Tooley, the Director of the Montana DOT and Chair of the AASHTO Committee on Safety; and Mike Griffith, the Director of the FHWA Office of Safety Technologies-shared their thoughts on the future and how States can prepare for what will come. Joey stressed the importance of safety efforts reaching to local roads, noting that we cannot reach zero if we do not work with local agencies. He saw promise for the future in automation and noted that FHWA and others will work to determine the impacts of automated vehicles on existing roadways. Mike Tooley reminded his peers about Michelle May's challenge for the audience the day before and encouraged everyone to "Do something crazy, do something different. We have the biggest responsibilities in the world - saving lives." Mike Griffith discussed the challenges and opportunities that he saw across road users, infrastructure, and technology. He compared the United States fatality rate of 12 fatalities per 100,000 population to Australia and Western Europe's fatality rates of 5 and 3, respectively. He noted that, if we can reach these rates, we can save approximately 25,000 lives a year.

On the third day of the peer exchange, the participants participated in workshops and technical visits. The workshops included Driving FoRRRwD (Focus on Reducing Rural Roadway Departures), Performance Based Intersection Design and Operations, and Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian. The technical visits included a tour of the University of Minnesota's HumanFirst Lab, a guided walking tour of Minneapolis's pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and a tour of 3M's Innovation Center.

To close out the conference, the participants at the National Safety Engineers Peer Exchange participated in the first ever National Traffic Safety Bowl. Four contestants, one from each of the regions, faced off in a 25-question jeopardy-style quiz game. The contestants were selected for each region by winning a qualifying State transportation trivia game. Sean Raymond from the Rhode Island DOT represented the North region; Michael Vaughn from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet represented the South region; Sonja Piper from the host State of Minnesota represented the Mid-America region; and Jeff Mills from the Utah DOT represented the West Region. In a very close finish, Michael Vaughn came from second place in the final round to win the title of National Champion Traffic Safety Bowler when he correctly answered that 2005 was the year the Highway Safety Improvement Program was established as a core Federal-aid program by the SAFETEA-LU legislation. The other contestants congratulated Michael but looked forward to a future opportunity to challenge him for the title.

For more information about the peer exchange, please contact Karen Scurry at

Let's Continue to Focus on Reducing Rural Roadway Departures!

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is committed to help agencies reduce rural roadway departures. A systemic analysis can determine how healthy your local roadways are; from there, are a variety of treatments that may be applied to improve conditions. To aide in your decision-making, FHWA has established three objectives that implementation of safety countermeasures should address:

Objective 1 Keep vehicles on roadways and in their lane . Signing, pavement markings, friction treatments , and rumble strips are countermeasures that help achieve this objective.

Objective 2 Increase the opportunity for safe recovery . Shoulders, traversable slopes, clear zones, and SafetyEdge(SM) -  a paving technique that provides a safe transition back onto the pavement, are examples of this objective in practice.

Objective 3 Reduce crash severity . Barriers and breakaway designs for signs, luminaires, and mailboxes are examples of these types of countermeasures. Cable barriers, for example, are a flexible barrier that reduces crash severity.

If you are looking for a way to explain and visualize rural roadway departure crash types, countermeasures and tools to others, try using the FoRRRwd Trading Cards produced by the FHWA Office of Safety! They can be accessed for printing in a variety of different ways here .

Lifesavers Conference Scholarship Opportunity

The Lifesavers Conference brings together a unique combination of traffic safety and public health professionals, researchers, advocates, practitioners and students committed to sharing best practices, research and policy initiatives proven to work. 

The Indian Highway Safety Program (IHSP) is pleased to announce a reimbursable grant opportunity for federally recognized tribal employees which would allow them to attend the Lifesavers Conference in March 2020. This reimbursable grant opportunity will cover registration fees and travel expenses for tribal employees who work in the realm of traffic who would like to attend the conference.

Applications are due March 6, 2020. For more information or to apply for this scholarship opportunity, click the link below.

Grant Opportunity Number: BIA-IHSP-2020-0001
Opportunity Title: Indian Highway Safety Lifesavers Conference Grant
Direct Link

Upcoming Trainings and Events
We're hosting a webinar! Join us for Local Road Safety Plan Implementation Part 2: A Roadmap to Getting Home Safely

Join us Thursday, January 23th for our webinar on Local Road Safety Planning. This webinar will be co-hosted by the NLTAPA Safety Working Group. It will feature information on how to begin a Local Road Safety Plan and provide case studies from the county and FHWA Division Office perspective. The time is 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM Mountain/1:00 PM to 2:30 PM Eastern. Registration will open soon as be available here

Headed to TRB 99th Annual Meeting? Check Out These Safety Sessions Sponsored by ANB10: Committee on Transportation Safety Management Systems


9:00 am to 12:00 pm - Speed Management: Let's Talk Limits (Workshop)
Speed management is integral to safer roadways, especially for nonmotorized users like pedestrians and bicyclists; however, limited resources and policy challenges make speed enforcement difficult. This workshop will provide an overview on communitywide speed management strategies and resources, followed by three case studies of the city, state, and international experience.

1:30 pm to 4:30 pm - Developing Local Road Safety Plans: Partnering with State DOTs, MPOs, and Local Agencies (Workshop)
Local road safety plans (LRSPs) are a proven safety countermeasure to develop a roadmap for reducing fatalities and serious injuries on all public roadways. This workshop will bring together representatives from DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations, and local agencies to share these practices and further the use of LRSPs.


10:15 am to 12:00 pm - Tools for Transforming Road Safety Practice to Safe Systems (Lectern)
Achieving Vision Zero requires transportation officials, road safety partners and the public to make a shift in the way they view road trauma and a change in road safety practice. The safe system approach enables the change to occur.

3:45 pm to 5:45 pm - Safety Management in a World of Connected and Automated Vehicles - Hybrid Session (Lectern)
Connected and automated vehicles are quickly advancing and are expected to have disruptive impacts on transportation in the coming years. The session will include presentations on safety assessments of highly automated driving systems; harnessing the data generated by connected vehicles to monitor safety performance; information on traffic collisions involving these vehicles and other topics.


8:00 am to 12:00 pm - Moving Transportation Safety Research into Practice (Lectern)
The primary goal for completed transportation research is to have the knowledge gained implemented to successfully address real-world transportation challenges. This session will feature three presentations followed by a panel discussion on next steps for implementation. Audience participation will be encouraged.

8:00 am to 12:00 pm - The Nexus of Speed Management and Human Factors as a Focal Point of Safe Systems (Workshop)
The primary goal for completed transportation research is to have the knowledge gained implemented to successfully address real-world transportation challenges. This session will feature three presentations followed by a panel discussion on next steps for implementation. Audience participation will be encouraged.


8:00 am to 12:00 pm - Rural Transportation for Everyone: Policy and Practice in 2020 (Workshop)
Everybody, Including physically, economically and socially disadvantaged people, needs accessible, affordable, and safe transportation to ensure access to economic and social opportunities. This multi-modal, multi-disciplinary workshop will begin with a panel presentation and finish with interactive round table discussions on the challenges that rural communities face.

Save the Date!

March 15-17, 2020 in Tampa, FL

The Lifesavers Conference brings together a unique combination of traffic safety and public health professionals, researchers, advocates, practitioners and students committed to sharing best practices, research and policy initiatives proven to work

April 19-23, 2020 in Orange Beach, AL

There are 2 ways to learn about best practices and innovation changes in local roads: Wait until they happen then scramble to catch up.  NACE 2020 presents a fresh, new approach to how county road and infrastructure officials learn, engage, and connect with one another. 

May 12-14, 2020 in Richmond, VA
The Safer Roads 2020 International Conference is a triennial event for roadway safety professionals and transportation officials from around the world. The conference brings together industry leaders, government officials, corporate roadway department personnel, and others in the roadway safety industry, with a focus on working better together.

Every three years, our international community gathers to learn, network, and discover the latest industry best practices to improve roadway safety. This global conference is designed to facilitate communications and the sharing of ideas to stimulate creative problem solving.

This year's conference will be held in conjunction with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Official's (AASHTO) Committee on Safety. The AASHTO group includes both policy and technical level within the state department of transportation (DOT), and represents the multidisciplinary approach to safety performance, including experience in engineering, enforcement, education, emergency medical service or incident response, and the use of data-driven safety evaluation, analysis, and diagnosis to identify and address the need to reduce crashes. 

July 27-30, 2020 in Seattle, WA

August 30- September 2, 2020 in New Orleans, LA
PWX provides a first-class multimodal learning experience designed for professionals at all levels and across the entire spectrum of public works. Come prepared to see, hear, touch, and discuss in a variety of traditional and interactive sessions, seminars, workshops, and networking opportunities. Attendees can also spend time on North America's largest exhibit floor for public works equipment and services - we've carved out generous portions of non-compete time so you don't miss any sessions. Kick tires, talk about technology, or get the scoop on new products. To take advantage of everything PWX has to offer with more than 5,000 public works colleagues from North America and beyond, meet us in New Orleans.
September 29 - October 1, 2020 in Kansas City, MO
What's Hot Off the Press?
NCHRP Synthesis 535 - Pedestrian Safety Relative to Traffic-Speed Management

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program has recently published Synthesis 535: Pedestrian Safety Relative to Traffic-Speed Management. The report aims to document what is known about strategies and countermeasures to address pedestrian safety via traffic-speed management in urban environments. For example, the City of San Francisco regularly uses curb extensions as traffic-calming devices on its streets. However, the political and land use context of each city heavily influences the types of treatments that are considered feasible for each city. Thus, the City of Los Angeles has had to find alternatives to both automated speed enforcement and road diets, the latter of which have been the subject of intense public backlash in some cases.

Evaluation of Guardrail Needs and Update of Guardrail Rating Program

The University of Kentucky has issued a report for strengthening guardrail safety through prioritizing guardrail installations. Evaluation of Guardrail Needs and Update of Guardrail Rating Program may be downloaded here.

Updated Federal Rule Provides Flexibility for the States Relating to Materials Selection

The Federal Highway Administration has updated the federal rule to give states added flexibility and choices in selecting products and services used on federally funded highway projects. The updated rule went into effect on October 28, 2019. The updated rule may be found here and a Q &A section is provided here.

NHTSA 2018 Traffic Deaths Data

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released its traffic deaths data for 2018. Interested in seeing the breakdown of speed-related, motorcycle, pedestrian, and other types of fatalities? You can read here about the 2018 data and see where increases and decreases occurred. The sad story is we're still losing more than 36,000 people a year on our roadways.

FRA Releases New Report on Reducing Vehicle-Trail Collisions

The Federal Railroad Administration has a new report out discussing ways to deter vehicles from making mistake turns onto a right of way at highway rail grade crossings. The October 2019 report, Reducing Vehicle-Train Collisions, is available for download.

FHWA Releases Reducing Rural Roadway Departures Video

The Federal Highway Administration has posted a Reducing Rural Roadway Departures Overview informational video on YouTube. The five-minute video captures what happens when 30 people die each day when their car leaves its travel lane on a rural road. This video helps with ways to save the people behind those numbers.

Contributing Authors
Karen Scurry, Federal Highway Administration Office of Safety
Kim Eccles, VHB
Janet Leli,  Rutgers' Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Omid Sarmid, Rutgers' Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Carla Little, Western Transportation Institute 
Jaime Sullivan, Western Transportation Institute
Karalyn Clouser, Western Transportation Institute