Integrating Safety into Transportation Planning

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Incorporating safety in transportation planning helps identify, analyze, and develop solutions to transportation hazards. Safety conscious planning addresses highway, transit, pedestrian, bicycle, and heavy vehicle safety. State departments of transportation (DOTs) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) typically coordinate their efforts with local transportation and safety planning partners including, but not limited to, law enforcement, emergency management, community groups, and safety advocates.


Trends in Transportation Safety

Pre-1990s: Focus on Human and Vehicular Factors

Motor vehicle accidents have decreased dramatically over the last four decades (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 2020 Report). The rate of casualties in traffic crashes in 1966 was three times higher than it is today, and by the end of the 1990s, the number of transportation-related injuries and deaths per capita reached an all-time low. The primary reason for the decreased rate of automotive casualties during this time period was changes in behavior: less people drove while intoxicated and more people wore a seatbelt (U.S. General Accounting Office, Highway Safety: Factors Contributing to Traffic Crashes and NHTSA's Efforts to Address Them). Improvements to vehicle safety features account for the majority of additional gains in safety during this period.

1990s: A Leveling Off of Improvement

Despite over $2 billion having been spent on federal aid for highway safety programs, the rate of automobile fatalities per capita leveled off in the mid-to-late 1990's. Population trends (i.e., larger numbers of younger and senior motorists) in the US are resulting in increases in the number of higher risk drivers. Combined with overall population growth across the nation and greater congestion, traffic accidents are predicted to continue as the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 3 and 34.

Next Steps: Addressing Environmental and Emerging Human Factors

Now that crashes resulting from driving while intoxicated and vehicle factors have been greatly reduced, greater emphasis must be placed on addressing the environmental factors that lead to accidents and to emerging human factors such as distracted driving. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) was the first surface transportation bill that required transportation planning agencies (including DOTs and MPOs) to "provide for consideration of projects and strategies that will increase the safety and security of the transportation system for motorized and non-motorized users."

An increased emphasis was placed on safety in the successor to TEA-21. The Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) included safety as its own planning factor separate from security and includes additional requirements for State DOTs and MPOs.

While crashes involving vehicles result in the greatest number of fatalities, non-motorized safety issues also exist above and beyond bicycle and pedestrian incidents with vehicles. Appropriate measures also need to be taken to enhance the safety of the traveling public outside of those driving or traveling in cars and trucks.

Integrating Safety into Planning

Measures employed by planners to improve safety on the transportation system are traditionally implemented through the Three Es:

  • Engineering designing safer roadway facilities
  • Education increasing awareness of safe travel behaviors
  • Enforcement penalizing unsafe travel behaviors

Given the high costs to life and property, transportation planners are continually searching to develop methods to prevent accidents through improved planning processes and strategies. As with all forms of planning, the processes and strategies employed to identify and address needs are dependent on the characteristics of current and projected users. In the case of transportation safety in the U.S., the aging population and their strong preference to remain independent dictate the safety issues facing planners.

On June 9 and 10, 2005, the New York State Association of MPOs sponsored a forum in Poughkeepsie to discuss and share strategies to better incorporate safety in the transportation planning process. The objectives of the forum were to:

  • Outline and review traditional engineering approaches to address safety
  • Identify proactive strategies to improve safety
  • Identify resources to support education and enforcement programs
  • Develop a strategy for sharing best practices among the 13 New York MPOs

The forum included panels and breakout sessions organized around engineering, human behavior, and planning needs as each related to safety. Dr. Michael Meyer of the Georgia Institute of Technology, a nationally-recognized expert on transportation safety, delivered the keynote address.

The recommendations developed as part of the program include:

  1. MPOs should consider establishing a systematic process for addressing safety based on adequate, timely, and geocoded crash data. One strategy includes conducting annual audits of high-crash locations and locations identified by the community as having safety issues.
  2. MPOs should work with county Traffic Safety Boards to facilitate a coordinated approach to address safety issues by combining technical transportation planning abilities and education and enforcement capabilities.
  3. The New York State Association of MPOs should form a group to work on safety-related issues, possibly meeting quarterly or semi-annually.
  4. A statewide group of stakeholders should be established to suggest priority initiatives, identify best practices, leverage funding on behalf of all the MPOs, and respond to federal and state legislation.
  5. A similar forum should be convened on a regular basis to continue sharing good practice and to report on the experience and performance of actions taken by the MPOs with respect to safety.
  6. MPOs should collaborate with the NY State Police and Governors Traffic Safety Committee to implement TraCS (a software program developed for use by law enforcement agencies that collects traffic accident data) in the local jurisdictions.
  7. Provide training for transportation planners on effective safety alternatives.
  8. Encourage MPO involvement in the development of regional incident management plans, coordination, and training.
  9. Develop tools that allow MPOs to examine safety data and establish priorities; apply for relevant funding; publicize the benefits of safety; and educate decision-makers and the public.
  10. MPOs should include all disciplines in transportation planning by bringing together maintenance, operations, law enforcement, and engineering departments early in the planning process.
  11. MPOs should advocate for human factors research, especially as it relates to behavioral reactions to engineering designs and technology.

Further information on the implementation of these recommendations by the MPOs and their partner agencies, and the activities of the NYSMPOs Safety Working Group (see recommendation #3 above) is available at the New York State Association of MPOs website at:

Regional Efforts

Specific examples of integrating safety into transportation planning recently undertaken by or on behalf of GTC along with their objectives are listed below. Note: The inventory below includes only plans and studies for which documents are readily available in electronic format. If a specific plan or study of interest is not listed below, please contact GTC at (585) 232-6240 for further information.

  • Intersection Accident Database Enhancement Project - Final Report (Monroe County) To provide reliable volume estimates for minor (non-county and non-state) public roads where they intersect Monroe County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) highways and for urban street intersections within the City of Rochester, thereby enhancing the existing MCDOT accident database and high crash location identification process.
  • Horizontal Alignment Safety Study (Livingston County) To conduct a safety study with respect to horizontal alignment on Livingston County highways.
  • Neighborhood Traffic Calming Manual (City of Rochester) To develop a comprehensive design manual for neighborhood traffic calming techniques for use by planners and citizens in design charettes.
  • On-Street Bicycle Facility Opportunities Review Executive Summary and Technical Memorandum To examine the street network in the Rochester Transportation Management Area (TMA) for opportunities to incorporate bicycle accommodations per the accepted range of on-street bicycle facility types emphasizing low-cost applications and strategic improvements, including roads identified in Phase I of the Regional Trails Initiative.
  • Overhead Traffic Sign Visibility Upgrade Project - Executive Summary (Monroe County) To inspect and evaluate existing County-owned/maintained overhead mast arm mounted, span wire mounted or rigid free standing structure mounted traffic signs on City streets and Monroe County roads for the purpose of upgrading these signs by replacing them with signs that have a higher level of retroreflectivity and/or increased letter size. This will provide improved overall visibility and legibility for all motorists, but particularly for the aging motorist population.
  • Pedestrian Facilities Inventory - Executive Summary (GTC) To create a GIS-based inventory of pedestrian facilities and their associated condition located in the Rochester Transportation Management Area (TMA).
  • Safe Routes to School Guidebook (GTC) To provide a resource for school and municipal officials, parents, and others to improve student safety and encourage students to walk and bicycle to school.
  • Town of Conesus Transportation & Safety Management Plan (Town of Conesus) To record existing road conditions, pedestrian and bicycle activity, and safety and project future conditions of the transportation system based on current and future demographic patterns. To identify and investigate alternatives for each of the main study elements that have been identified and investigated, and to prioritize the suggested recommendations and initiatives; identify roles and responsibilities; and identify potential funding sources.
  • Transportation Safety Information Analysis - Technical Memorandum (GTC) To identify and assess the availability and quality of accident data for transportation planning and design activities.

Distracted Driving Its Time to Put it Down1

Distraction is defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a specific type of inattention that occurs when drivers divert their attention away from the task of driving to focus on another activity instead. These distractions can be electronic distractions such as navigation systems and cell phones or more conventional distractions (such as interacting with passengers and eating). These distracting tasks can affect drivers in different ways and are categorized into the following three types visual taking your eyes off the road; manual taking your hands off the wheel; and cognitive taking your mind off the road.

Drivers Simply Cant Do Two Things At Once

  • Drivers who use hand-held devices while driving are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves or others.
  • The proportion of drivers reportedly distracted at the time of the fatal crashes has increased from 8 percent in 2004 to 11 percent in 2008.
  • One of the most commonly recognized distractions is cell phone use. Cell phone subscriptions have grown exponentially from 1988 through 2009. About 89 percent, or approximately 277 million Americans, have a cell phone according to CTIA The Wireless Association. For many, it is the only kind of telephone they possess. In a recent NHTSA survey, most individuals (77 percent) reported that they talk on the phone while driving at least some of the time.

Everyone Has A Personal Responsibility

With technology more portable now than ever, driver distractions have risen to unprecedented numbers. We live in a world where people expect instant, realtime information 24 hours-a-day and those desires do not stop just because people get behind the wheel. Drivers simply do not realize the dangers that are posed when they take their eyes and minds off the road and their hands off the wheel to focus on activities other than driving. Common sense and personal responsibility are a major part of the solution. We simply cant legislate our way out of this problem. Its up to each and every person to make sure they Put It Down and pay attention to road. The risks are simply too high.

Young Drivers are Especially at Risk

Younger, inexperienced drivers have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. Their lack of driving experience can contribute to critical misjudgments if they become distracted. Not surprisingly, they text more than any other age group and the numbers of young drivers who text is only increasing.

Its a trend that poses a growing danger, so its important to address this issue now. Parents need to set a good example for their children and show them from an early age that it is unsafe to text and/or talk on their phone while driving, and the results can be deadly.

Everyone is Part of the Solution

Put It Down is a broad, public-private partnership of community and health groups, safety advocates, businesses, law enforcement, legislators, public officials, concerned citizens, and those who have lost loved ones because of a distracted driver. They realize that eliminating distractions while driving will save lives and reduce costs associated with crashes caused by distracted drivers. And because everyone is potentially affected when drivers are distracted, everyone must be part of the solution.

For more information and specific tools for the groups below, please visit the Campaign Tools - Get Involved section of Available materials include:

  • Community Group Materials
  • School Materials
  • Parent Materials
  • Employer Materials
  • Law Enforcement Materials

Additional Distracted Driving Resources:

Stay Focused: Don't Text and Drive (Verizon Wireless)
Stop the Distractions (Sprint)
Texting and Driving: it can wait (AT&T)
Yeah, You're THAT Distracting (Ad Council Of Rochester)

1. Adapted from the Put it Down Key Messages fact sheet available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at

Tips for Younger Drivers2

According to NHTSA, young drivers (15- to 20-years old) are especially vulnerable to death and injury on our roadways traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. Teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes per mile as all other drivers.

Research has demonstrated which behaviors contribute to teen-related crashes. Inexperience and immaturity combined with speed, drinking and driving, not wearing seat belts, distracted driving (e.g. cell phone use, loud music, other teen passengers, etc.), drowsy driving, nighttime driving, and drug use aggravate this problem. Younger drivers can help to improve their own safety, and that of their passengers, other drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists, by following these guidelines:

Slow Down

Speeding is a major cause of traffic crashes. Always drive at a safe speed.

  • The speed limit is the maximum speed allowed under normal conditions.
  • Adjust your speed to take into account your driving ability, the capability of your vehicle, the geometry of the roadway, and weather conditions.
  • Slow down in rain, fog, snow and ice and keep at least twice the normal stopping distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you during these conditions.
  • Slow down when approaching curves, intersections, downhill grades, heavy traffic, and work zones.

Dont Drink and Drive

Underage drinking is against the law. Under New Yorks Zero Tolerance Law, any person under 21 found to have violated this law faces the following penalties:

  • Suspended license for six months and you will have to pay a civil penalty of $125.
  • Additional $100 fee in order to have your license reinstated.
  • If charged with having driven after having consumed alcohol, the charge will remain on your record for three years or until you are 21, whichever is longer.
  • If you have any prior alcohol-related traffic offenses on your record, your license will be revoked for one year or until you reach the age of 21, whichever is longer.

Some tips:

  • Whatever you do, DO NOT attempt to drive yourself home, even if you think you're okay.
  • Ask a friend who hasn't had any alcohol to give you a ride. A designated driver is the person who has had NO alcohol.
  • If you and all of your friends have been drinking, call a parent, older sibling, or even a cab. Everyone will be glad you chose the safe way home.
  • If you've been drinking at a friend's house, staying where you are is always safer than gambling with your own life and the lives of others.
  • If you have a friend thats been drinking get their keys and find them a safe way home. You could be saving their life.

Always Wear Seat Belts

In 2008, seat belts saved more than 13,000 lives nationwide. From 2004 to 2008, seat belts saved over 75,000 lives enough people to fill a large sports arena. During a crash, being buckled up helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle, whereas being completely thrown from a vehicle almost always results in death. Seat belts are the best defense against impaired, aggressive, and distracted drivers.

  • Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash.
  • Make sure that the lap belt and shoulder belt are secured across the pelvis and rib cage, which are more able to withstand crash forces than other parts of your body.
  • Air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.

In fact, if you dont wear your seat belt, you could be thrown into a rapidly opening frontal air bag which could injure or even kill you. See for more on air bags and other vehicle safety information.

Put it Down: Don't Text or Talk on a Cell phone While Driving

Give driving your full attention. Distracted drivers are much more likely to be involved in a crash. You can be distracted by anything that takes your attention away from the task of driving.

Some tips to reduce distraction:

  • Pull off of the road to find a safe place to talk or text on the cell phone or look for items in the vehicle.
  • Program radio stations or make CD selections before you get on the road.
  • Do not let others ride with you if they distract you.
  • Never read while you are driving.
  • Plan your trip before you leave and get directions to your destination.
  • Do not put on makeup, shave, or eat while driving.

2. Adapted from Missouri Department of Transportation, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and the New York State Governors Traffic Safety Committee.

Considerations for Older Drivers3

The loss of the driving privilege is a very significant concern for any driver. The drivers license is often both a symbol of independence and seen as a requirement for a normal life.

The Process of Becoming Older Brings Physical Changes

The process of becoming older brings physical changes that decrease driving abilities. The exact age at which the changes can occur depends on each person. For all older drivers, it is important to recognize when the changes occur.

The changes to look for include:

  • Decreased vision, especially at night.
  • A decreased ability to judge the distance between your vehicle and other vehicles.
  • Movements that are restricted or difficult and longer reaction times caused by disabilities that include arthritis and rheumatism.

It is important to recognize and know how to compensate for the changes:

  • Keep a standard schedule for vision and hearing examinations.
  • If you normally wear glasses or contact lenses or a hearing aid, always wear them when you drive.
  • Give yourself time to adjust to new lenses, and have your lenses checked often.
  • Use medications correctly. Understand how medications can affect your driving. Avoid driving when you take medications that can change your coordination, vision, or judgment.

Older Drivers Can Restrict Driving to Adjust to Changes in Their Driving Skills

Rather than stop driving completely and lose independence, older drivers can:

  • Drive in daylight hours and not at dawn, dusk, or at night when it is more difficult for a driver to see at these hours.
  • Avoid "rush hours" and other peak traffic periods.
  • Use roads that you know well and avoid roads you do not know well.
  • Take shorter trips.
  • Use highways that have lower speed limits.
  • Do not try to eat or drink while you drive. Eating while driving is the fourth leading cause of crashes and near-crashes according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Do not use a cell phone or any other hand-held device while driving.

As the Country Ages, Older Driver Safety Becomes Increasingly Important

As the country ages, there will be more families who need to deal with the issue of older driver safety. Approximately one in every seven drivers is age 65 or older, and the percentage of older drivers continues to grow. By 2029, approximately one in four drivers will be age 65 or older.

Any of the following can be signs of possible problems. It can be a warning sign if the older driver or the family notice that the driver:

  • Has frequent accidents or near-accidents or frequent traffic tickets or warnings from the police.
  • Has dents or scrapes on the car, or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, and other locations.
  • Finds that it is difficult to accurately judge the amount of space between vehicles in traffic, at intersections, and on highway entrance and exit ramps.
  • Frequently becomes lost.
  • Cannot easily see both edges of the road when they look straight ahead.
  • Has slower response time, cannot quickly move their foot from the gas pedal to the break pedal, or confuses the two pedals.
  • Gets distracted easily or has problems with concentration.
  • Cannot turn their head to check over the shoulder while they back up or change traffic lanes.

An older driver who continues to experience a decrease in driving abilities may have to consider how to limit driving or stop driving. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has developed a self-assessment that can help you determine if you should limit your driving:

Additional Help is Available from the NYS Office for the Aging

It is difficult for both older drivers and their families when the older driver has become a risk on the highways. The circumstances can result in strong emotions, conflicts, and confusion.

To help, the New York State Office for the Aging has initiated the Older Driver and Pedestrian Safety Project. The Program offers a handbook for families with the title "When You Are Concerned." The 56-page book has won awards and is for families who need to deal with the issue of an older driver at risk. The handbook is available at the website of the NYS Office for the Aging at the following link: You can also request a copy of the handbook by e-mail to, by phone at 1-800-342-9871, or a request mailed to:

New York State
Office for the Aging
2 Empire State Plaza
Albany, New York 12223-1251

3. Adapted from New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and New York State Office for the Aging.