What is Highway Safety?

Proper highway safety refers to the methods or rules that prevent highway travelers from being killed or severely injured. Proper highway safety measures help to protect motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, passengers on public transport, and so on.

Facts About Highway Safety

  • Each year, more than 38,000 individuals die in the U.S. due to motor vehicle crashes.
  • The U.S. traffic fatality rate is reportedly 12.4 deaths per 100,000 habitants.
  • Around 4.4 million accidents are due to fatal crashes that require medical attention.
  • According to reports, the majority of highway deaths in the U.S. are due to motor vehicle crashes and severe road accidents.
  • Compared to other high-income countries, the U.S. suffers more fatalities due to fatal crashes on highways, with pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities at the top of the list.
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of fatalities of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes has increased since 1990.

NHTSA is a Washington-based highway safety organization under the U.S. Department of Transport, which commits to protect individuals on American highways. By partnering with state governors, highway safety associations, and local agencies, NHTSA enforces highway safety standards to reduce deaths, injuries, and motor vehicle crashes in the U.S.

Therefore, it is the sole responsibility of the U.S. department to pass stringent laws and rules to ensure the overall safety of the individuals on highways.

A road accident on the highways of Toronto
CC BY-SA 4.0 | Image credits: https://commons.wikimedia.org | Hillelfrei

Highway Safety Measures by the Government

Various highway safety measures have been implemented to reduce road fatalities. Some of these are discussed briefly in this section.

Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP)

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), a body under the U.S. transport department, initiated the strategic highway safety plan, or SHSP. It is a major component of the highway safety improvement program (HSIP), an inter-state coordinated program for initiating highway safety. The SHSP functions by identifying holes in states' highway safety protocols and provides quick and immediate measures to correct the identified key safety parameters. SHSP also directs investment decisions needed to rectify those parameters.

State Highway Safety Offices

State highway safety offices are specially formed bodies under the governor's highway safety association (GHSA). The GHSA directs state and territorial governors to appoint SHSO officers, known as general representatives (GR). The GRs and the highway safety coordinator make up the GHSA membership. Sometimes the GRs are also known as "highway safety coordinators".

The primary responsibilities of GRs are:

  • Gathering statistics and data that point out state highway safety potholes
  • Setting proper measures to rectify highway safety issues
  • Contract and law monitoring
  • Assisting different communities and offices to initiate highway safety programs, like assisting federal highway administration (FWHA)
  • Conducting highway safety training
  • Preparation of grant documents
  • Implementing state and other federal programs to set up traffic safety laws
  • Setting up safety sub-offices and planning documents
  • Setting the state's safety laws and objectives

Highway Safety Act

The highway safety act of the U.S. was established in 1966 as a coordinated program focused on highway safety to reduce the death tolls on American roads. The secretary of transportation was responsible for imposing highway safety standards. This safety act covered all the potholes that the early state and federal laws had regarding poor driver education, insufficient safety rules, and poor enforcement programs.

Methods to Promote Highway Safety

Despite the initiatives of the U.S. government, it is the sole responsibility of the citizens to follow and properly implement the set of rules and laws laid down by the government.

Some of the measures and practices that promote safety on the highway are outlined below:

Maintaining proper speed limits

Speed limits are the legally permitted limits of speed that a vehicle can run on a highway. The speed limits are indicated on traffic signs with permitted values of speeds in the miles per hour (mph) at which a vehicle can propel. Speed limits are decided by the state and legislative bodies and are enforced by state police and members of the judicial authorities. Speed limits can be constant through an area or can vary.

Wearing seatbelts

A seatbelt is the first invention without a patent that enabled every vehicle manufacturer to project safety to their customers. Wearing a seatbelt not only protects the driver from fatal crashes but also promotes safety to other passengers inside the vehicle.

Wearing helmets while riding two-wheelers

Cyclists and motorcyclists are at immense danger and risk of head injury while using highways. This risk can be minimized by wearing a proper helmet. Using other proper riding gear is also encouraged to promote safety.

Imposing enforcement towards driving while drinking

Stringent rules and laws must be set up in every state to hold responsible individuals who drive after drinking. According to reports, the USA lost almost 10,000 people in 2016 because of drunk driving. This accounts for almost 28% of the traffic-related deaths, out of which 17% were children age 0-14 years who were killed by alcohol-impaired drivers.

National Road Safety Programs

Every state government must initiate road safety programs to properly educate every individual regarding various traffic rules and laws. Children at every school should be encouraged to attend safety-related programs arranged by their respective school authorities. This will expose them to road-related safety and risks and they will be taught how to deal with a situation in case of any accident which might occur on the highway.

Anyone operating a vehicle must be well educated and provided with adequate skills to use the highway safely. All vehicle owners should undergo mandatory training and pass strict examinations after completing this training. This is because the majority of highway-related accidents are due to improper training, education, and reckless driving.

Context and Applications

This topic is extensively taught in various undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses of:

  • Bachelors of Technology (Civil engineering)
  • Masters of Technology (Civil engineering)
  • Masters of Technology (Highway engineering)
  • Masters of Science in Road and Highway Safety

Practice Problems

1. Which of the following is the full form of SHSO?

a. State Highway Safety Organization
b. State Highway Safety Office
c. State Highway Safety Offices
d. State Highway Safety Official

Answer: c

Explanation: The full form of SHSO is state highway safety offices.

2. Which of the following is the full form of FHWA?

a. Federal Highway Administration
b. Federal Highway Authority
c. Federal Highway Agency
d. Federal Highway Act

Answer: a

Explanation: The full form of FHWA is federal highway administration.

3. Which of the following is a measure to promote road safety?

a. Wearing helmets
b. Using seatbelts
c. Both a and b
d. None of these

Answer: c

Explanation: A proper measure to promote road or highway safety is to wear helmets in case of riding a two-wheeler and to use seatbelts in case of driving a four-wheeler.

4. Which of the following is a body under the U.S. Department of Transport?


Answer: a

Explanation: The NHTSA is a body under the U.S. department of transport that initiates safety measures by coordinating with different associations and authorities like Governors Highway Safety Association.

5. Which of the following is a function of GR?

a. Conducting highway safety training
b. Traffic law enforcement
c. Handling traffic fatalities
d. Designing safe highways

Answer: a

Explanation: Conducting highway safety training is one of the responsibilities of GR.

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