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FHWA Publishes Proposed Safety Rules

Highway traffic jam
The Federal Highway Administration has proposed regulations to implement the performance management requirements of the Highway Safety Improvement Program, including measures aimed at reducing fatalities and serious injuries on the nation’s highways. Wikimedia Commons/Coolcaesar

A notice of public rulemaking focuses on implementation of the performance management requirements for the Highway Safety Improvement Program.

April 15, 2014—The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in the March 11 Federal Register proposing the regulations to implement the performance management requirements of the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). The measures will focus on quantifiable advances in a range of performance measures, including reducing fatalities and serious injuries.

The proposed new rules are required by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) measure signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 6, 2012. The law directs the FHWA to establish this performance-based system to better align transportation spending to national priorities. A significant reduction in fatalities and serious injuries is one of the key national goals identified in Map-21.

In a written statement prepared by the FHWA for Civil Engineering online, the agency explained, “The goal of the HSIP is to achieve a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads, including nonstate-owned public roads and roads on tribal lands. The HSIP requires a data-driven, strategic approach to improving highway safety on all public roads that focuses on performance. States should select projects that support their safety performance targets with the ultimate goal [being] to achieve a significant reduction in fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads.”

MAP-21 requires performance measurements in 12 areas. The March 11 NPRM covers four such measurements: serious injuries per vehicle miles traveled (VMT), fatalities per VMT, the total number of serious injuries, and the total number of fatalities. Future NPRMs will cover the pavement condition on the Interstate system, the pavement condition on the non-Interstate national highway system (NHS), bridge conditions on the NHS, traffic congestion, on-road mobile source emissions, freight movement on the Interstate system, as well as performance of the interstate system and the non-interstate NHS.

The FHWA estimates that the new rule will collectively cost state departments of transportation (DOTs) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) $66.7 million over 10 years, nearly 40 percent of that figure in one-time implementation expenses. Fifty-three percent of the costs are associated with just establishing the targets. The FHWA notes that these costs will be offset by less easily quantifiable financial benefits arising from fewer fatalities and serious injuries.

The FHWA developed the rules by consulting with state DOTs, conducting stakeholder workshops, examining the economic and operational impacts of emerging technologies, conducting a series of webinars, and meeting with advocacy groups and private industry.

The NPRM establishes a rolling five-year average for the four fatality and injury measurements. The numbers will not be further broken down by vehicle type, influencing behaviors, or roadway characteristics because the resulting numbers would likely be too small to be statistically valuable. The rolling average will benefit less populous states where fatality and injury numbers can vary greatly from year to year.

The FHWA also proposes an option for the states to set two additional targets—one for all urbanized areas and one for all nonurbanized areas. Hybrid areas of the country that are small but urbanized would be included in the nonurbanized target, and the DOTs would have the flexibility to establish different performance targets for each classification.

Because of a three-year lag time between the occurrence of accidents and the availability of data compiled from those accidents, the FHWA will assess 2017 data in 2020 to determine if the targets were met. The FHWA will use these data to create a baseline assessment of the states’ progress and to predict future progress. If a state does not meet a target, the FHWA would then use the procedure proposed in the NPRM to determine whether the state made significant progress.

If the FHWA determines a state has not met that mark, 23 U.S. Code § 148 specifies that the state must use “obligation authority equal to the apportionment of the State for the prior year under section 104 (b)(3) only for highway safety improvement projects under this section until the secretary determines that the state has met or made significant progress toward meeting the performance targets of the state.”

The state must also submit an annual implementation plan of how it will achieve those performance targets until it is determined that the state has made significant progress.

The NPRMs can be found at The public can submit comments to the docket there. The docket ID is FHWA-2013-0020. The comment period ends on June 9. The FWHA also seeks comments on an NPRM focusing on the HSIP itself. The docket ID is FHWA-2013-0019. The comment period ends on May 27.



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