Rural Safety News is an electronic newsletter of the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS) at the University of Minnesota. Rural Safety News brings you the latest research and resources concerning rural safety.
Just prior to Independence Day, which is often the most dangerous travel day of the year, CERS researchers launched an enhanced version of SafeRoadMaps.org to help drivers identify the most dangerous portions of upcoming trips. The day of the launch, SafeRoadMaps.org received 250,000 hits and approximately 50 media outlets featured news about the site.
The online service flags the nation’s Top 100 “Hot Zones,” the rural areas that have experienced the most fatalities over the past five years. The hot zones are presented in a visually arresting Google Map-based format, where viewers can zoom from a national map showing all 100 zones down to a photo of each individual section of the road.
The safety advisory zones include 100 from rural areas. While 29 states have rural areas in the Top 100, the 10 states with the most “hot zones” are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia (in alphabetical order). A searchable map showing all of the hot zones is available at SafeRoadMaps.org.
“Drivers often think of rural safety as an issue only for the least populous states,” said Tom Horan, CERS research director. “But this analysis shows that drivers need to be extra alert in rural regions of the more populous states as well.”
SafeRoadMaps.org, unveiled in July 2008, is a powerful and visually innovative crash-mapping tool that maps out every roadway fatality in the nation to the local level. Site visitors need only enter a zip code, municipality name, or street address to immediately see a map or satellite image of all the road fatalities that have occurred in the chosen area over the past five years. Details about each crash are also available, such as whether the driver was wearing a seat belt, drinking, or speeding. In addition, the tool notes which life-saving public policies, such as strong seat belt laws, are being employed in the chosen area.
The SafeRoadMaps.org tool, created by Horan, fellow researcher Brian Hilton, and several colleagues, is being used in a variety of ways to educate the public about road fatalities. For instance, driver’s education leaders have advocated use of the tool as a means to teach new drivers the importance of following the rules of the road. Drivers are exploring their most common routes and being educated about the need to take sensible precautions. Finally, road safety officials are using the tool to better pinpoint where policy, structural, and traffic management adjustments are most needed.
“SafeRoadMaps is not about casting blame,” said Lee Munnich, CERS director. “This is about making sure drivers are informed and safe, and policymakers have a user-friendly tool to guide their safety related decisions.”
CERS was created in 2005 through the leadership of Minnesota Congressman James L. Oberstar, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Oberstar has encouraged CERS to make rural safety more visual, localized, and personal to the nation’s drivers and leaders.
While U.S. Census figures show that about one out of five (21 percent) Americans live in rural areas, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has found that about six out of 10 (57 percent) highway deaths occur on roads that it considers rural.
“Whether you’re a driver, policymaker or a road engineer, this is an eye opener,” Oberstar said of the new SafeRoadMaps.org tools. “Crash data used to be stored in huge dusty stacks of paper in Washington, D.C. We’ve made sure the information is instantly available on millions of screens, and it is available in a dramatically visual and customized format. This is as important to better highway safety as the interstate map was to achieving national mobility.”
According to a CERS research report published in May, titled Feasibility of a Quantitative Rural Safety Policy Improvement Index (RSPII): Phase I, the majority of fatal rural roadway crashes have at least one contributing factor related to human behavior or choices—something the researchers suggest might be modified.
One suggestion to adjust these behaviors is through the enactment and enforcement of legislatively based safety-improvement measures, or LSIMs. Examples include passing primary seat-belt laws, implementing graduated driver-licensing programs, and using automated speed enforcement. One suggestion to adjust these behaviors is through the enactment and enforcement of legislatively based safety-improvement measures, or LSIMs. Examples include passing primary seat-belt laws, implementing graduated driver-licensing programs, and using automated speed enforcement.
Keith Knapp, CERS director of transportation safety engineering, led the research project to investigate how the impact of changing roadway safety-related policies might be measured. Kelcie Young and Brad Utecht, graduate research assistants with the State and Local Policy Program at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, helped with the research project.
The objective of this research was to investigate the feasibility (Phase I) and possible implementation (Phase II) of a research-based, rural safety policy-improvement index (RSPII) to quantify the state-by-state impacts of LSIMs, according to the report’s executive summary. This report specifically focuses on activities completed during Phase I of the research.
The researchers examined recently completed LSIM summaries that categorized the direct safety impacts of 23 behavioral highway safety countermeasures as “proven” with “high-quality” research. Each of these 23 countermeasures was examined for its potential to improve rural roadway safety.
The researchers concluded that an RSPII was feasible and selected six LSIMs for consideration with an RSPII framework. The LSIMs selected include comprehensive graduated driver licensing programs, primary seat belt laws, motorcycle-helmet-use laws, sobriety checkpoints, ignition-interlock implementation, and automated speed enforcement.
The report documents a six-step RSPII framework and a pilot application of the RSPII framework that quantified the rural roadway safety impact of implementing a primary seat-belt law. In the pilot application, researchers found that an estimated 488 rural fatalities, or the death of 248 unbelted front-seat passenger-vehicle occupants 13 years old or older, could have been avoided. Researchers also concluded from the pilot application that the identification of the safety impacts and target groups for each countermeasure is critical to the application of the proposed RSPII framework and its results.
All six of the LSIMs selected will be applied within the RSPII framework during Phase II of this project.
Pay attention. Don't drink and drive. Wear your seat belt. Obey the speed limit.
Highway safety advocates stress these messages to teen drivers year after year. But year after year, teens continue to die on Minnesota highways for these very reasons. Is there a way to get through to them?
That's the question Minnesota State Patrol sought to answer when it created a powerful presentation featuring a new highway safety video, How to Save a Life. The video was produced on a shoestring budget using in-house resources and collaboration with the Missouri Highway Patrol. The power of the video is not found in fancy production value, but rather in heart-wrenching stories and graphic images. The photos of real Minnesota highway crashes in the video are often bloody and at times even gruesome. But that's the point, said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Matt Langer during the 20th Annual Transportation Research Conference hosted in May by the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies.
“People often ask me about the graphic nature of the video,” Langer said. “But I explain to them that this is reality, and that the video has a much bigger impact this way. The goal is to grab young people and their parents as well, and spark conversation between the two.”
The video has made quite an impact. While the 15-minute video is not publicly distributed, Minnesota State Patrol troopers have visited hundreds of schools and public forums during the past year to show the video and answer the questions it sparks. After presenting the video, troopers often have teenagers contact them—thanking them for the experience and asking how their friends at other schools can see the video as well.
The video and presentation are so engaging, one local television news station, FOX 9, even broadcast a special 8-minute report about Minnesota State Patrol efforts with the How to Save a Life video.
Langer and his fellow troopers hope giving teens and their parents a strong dose of reality will lead to a deeper understanding about the life-and-death decisions they're making every time they get behind the wheel.
“I spoke with a young man [recently] who wanted to let us know that he wore his seat belt about 50 percent of the time before watching the video,” Langer said. “About two months after watching the video, [he] was involved in a fatal T-bone collision. He was wearing his seat belt at the time of this collision but states he probably wouldn’t have been had he not seen the video/presentation.”
by Keith Knapp, CERS Director of Transportation Safety Engineering
In March 2009, the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety participated in a farm-equipment/motor-vehicle (FEMV) crash-prevention conference hosted by the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health (GPCAH) at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Attendees included engineers, insurers, educators, and law enforcement personnel, and the subsequent discussion was highly diverse.
We met to exchange information and data about FEMV interaction along public roadways and to reach consensus on goals and objectives for reducing FEMV crashes, especially focused on producing action plans for each of the nine states in the GPCAH region (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). Some of the other subjects discussed included farm-equipment lighting and signing standards, driver’s education, graduated driver-licensing legislation, and tractor-trailer truck driver training.
I spoke about some of the challenges that must be overcome to reduce FEMV crashes and some engineering measures that might assist in the effort, such as access point location changes, spot intersection improvements, and cross-section designs. I also pointed out that public and transportation professionals regularly have an opportunity to address safety concerns about potential FEMV crashes during the rural roadway rehabilitation and reconstruction process.
Slow-moving farm equipment can be an unexpected, although not unusual, sight along rural roadways. This is particularly true during the spring planting and fall harvest seasons. Farm use of public roadways is often essential to day-to-day operations, especially as the size of a typical farm has increased.
Conflicts between high-speed passenger cars and these slow-moving vehicles are a safety concern. Some factors that can contribute to FEMV crashes include less-than-desirable roadway geometrics, vehicle speeds and maneuvers, and the visibility and characteristics of the farm equipment being used.
The rural roadway environment within which these conflicts occur also may be affected by more rural residential subdivisions (i.e., passenger-car drivers less familiar with farm equipment capabilities), exemptions of younger drivers from graduated driver-licensing restrictions, teen farm-equipment operators, and lower seat-belt usage.
Most FEMV crashes occur during the day, but night collisions also occur even though this is typically a time when few farm vehicles are on the roadway. One study found that about a quarter of the FEMV crashes it considered occurred during dark conditions. Examples of some types of FEMV crashes include collisions between turning farm equipment and passing passenger cars, and passenger cars colliding with the back of farm equipment.
A reduction in FEMV crashes, as with other types of similar roadway safety issues, undoubtedly depends on a combination of engineering, education, and enforcement measures.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created a new fact sheet detailing fatal crashes in rural and urban areas in 2007. The data is based on the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which collects a census of fatal crashes occurring in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
In 2007, 37,248 fatal crashes occurred, resulting in 41,059 deaths. Of those, 56 percent of fatal crashes and 57 percent of the fatalities occurred in rural areas, while 44 percent of fatal crashes and 43 percent of fatalities took place in an urban setting.
According to the fact sheet, more fatal crashes occurred in rural areas even though fewer people live there. The data showed that 23 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but rural crashes accounted for more traffic deaths. In 2007, the rural fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 2.5 times higher than the urban rate. Rural fatalities, however, have decreased by 9 percent since 1998, while urban fatalities have increased 8 percent.
Fatal crashes were more likely to occur in low-speed urban areas and high-speed rural areas. In fatal urban crashes, 68 percent happened on roadways with speed limits of 50 mph or less, and 67 percent of fatal rural crashes happened in areas with posted speed limits of 55 mph or higher.
The time of day also played a role in urban and rural fatality rates: 52 percent of rural fatal crashes occurred during the day, while 56 percent of urban crashes occurred during the day. Fatal crashes were more likely to occur on the weekend in both areas, with 60 percent of rural crashes and 61 percent of urban crashes happening between Friday and Sunday.
Of the total drivers involved in fatal traffic crashes in 2007, 22 percent had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of .08 or higher. Alcohol-related crashes were more likely to occur in rural areas, with 55 percent occurring on rural roadways compared to 43 percent in urban areas. In both rural and urban areas, drivers 21 to 24 years old were most likely to have a BAC of .08 or higher, with 35 percent of alcohol-related fatalities occurring in this age group. Between 1998 and 2007, the number of fatal crashes involving alcohol decreased by 7 percent in urban areas but increased by 17 percent on urban roadways.
Finally, urban drivers seem more likely to wear a seat belt than their rural counterparts. In 2007, the urban seat-belt use rate was 84 percent, while the rural rate was 78 percent. Among those crash victims that were unrestrained, 56 percent of rural vehicle occupants were killed, compared to 51 percent of urban vehicle occupants.
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