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Introduction to Highway Safety Analysis - Part 1

By Matt Hiland
April 18, 2009

Introduction to Highway Safety Analysis – Part 1


According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), 41,059 people died on United States roads in 2007. Highway safety has for several years been a high profile issue. This is evidenced by the title and content of the last transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU), which targeted funding for highway safety initiatives and made safety a key component of nearly all state transportation activities. One of the key provisions of SAFETEA-LU requires all states to complete a Strategic Highway Safety Plan and requires that the SHSP be based on reliable data. The recent economic recovery package funding underscores safety as a key component of new transportation projects and also makes safety data systems eligible for stimulus funding. Thus, the ongoing flurry of state and federal initiatives to improve highway safety information systems appears likely to continue for some time. Many of these new or updated systems make innovative use of spatial technologies such as the global positioning system (GPS), geographic information systems (GIS), and linear referencing systems (LRS) to help identify locations on the highways that have potential for safety improvement. This article is the first in a series that provides a very high-level look at the typical data and processes for highway safety analysis.

Data Sources:

There are two basic data sources for highway safety analysis: crash reports and roadway data. Crash reports are collected by law enforcement officers for most traffic crashes occurring on public roads. Processing the crash reports into a central database is usually handled by the state department of public safety, while collection and maintenance of roadway data is usually handled by the state department of transportation. While law enforcement agencies must collect the crash reports, some states house crash data management under the same agency that manages the roadway data. Most states have established a traffic records coordinating committee to facilitate the collection and integration of crash and roadway data to meet the needs of all stakeholders.

The Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC) is a voluntary Guideline published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that helps states collect consistent crash data for a wide range of traffic safety planning applications. Most states’ crash data models either comply with MMUCC or are in the process of being transformed to do so. Many states collect additional information that is not part of MMUCC.

The Model Minimum Inventory of Roadway Elements (MMIRE) is the companion to MMUCC and provides a listing of roadway inventory and traffic elements critical to highway safety management. FHWA is currently developing this guideline and its first released version is due in Summer 2010.

In Part 2, we’ll look in a little more detail at the data elements used for highway safety analysis.