Highway Safety Improvement Program:
Further Efforts Needed to Address Data Limitations and Better Align Funding with States' Top Safety Priorities
GAO-09-35, Nov 21, 2008
About 43,000 people died and another 290,000 were seriously injured on the nation's roads in 2006. To reduce these numbers, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) nearly doubled funding for the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). SAFETEA-LU added requirements for states to develop strategic highway safety plans that include four key elements and to publicly report on at least the top 5 percent of hazardous locations on all of their public roads. The act also set aside funds for a legacy rail-highway crossing program and a new high-risk rural road program. As requested, GAO examined (1) states' implementation of HSIP following SAFETEA-LU, (2) HSIP results to date, and (3) FHWA's guidance and assistance to states. GAO analyzed plans from 25 states, including 19 randomly selected states and 6 states that GAO visited. GAO also interviewed FHWA and state safety officials.
All states adopted strategic highway safety plans, and the 25 state plans that GAO analyzed addressed the 4 key elements added by SAFETEA-LU, although states lacked some of the crash data and analysis capabilities described in the law. GAO's analysis showed that the 25 states (1) involved multidisciplinary safety stakeholders; (2) defined areas of safety emphasis through analyses of state fatality data using crash data analysis systems; (3) identified strategies and projects to address these emphasis areas through infrastructure improvements, behavioral approaches, and emergency medical services; and (4) provided for overall and individual project evaluations. However, many of the 25 states lacked components of the prescribed crash data analysis systems, such as a system for locating crashes and roadway data for local roads. FHWA is developing such a system for the states, but many states lack necessary data for local roads because they do not maintain or operate them. Without the prescribed components, states cannot conduct some of the safety analysis defined by SAFETEA-LU or report to FHWA on their most hazardous locations on all public roads, determine appropriate remedies, and estimate costs--all requirements added by SAFETEA-LU. While FHWA has set a deadline for states to develop the capability to locate crashes on all public roads, it has not done so for roadway data. Because states were not required to submit their strategic highway safety plans to FHWA until October 2007, they have not had sufficient time to implement and evaluate their HSIP strategies and projects; hence, it is too soon to evaluate HSIP results carried out after SAFETEA-LU. However, two of HSIP's statutory funding provisions may not be aligned with some states' safety priorities contained in their strategic plans. First, FHWA data show that most states have not used a new flexible funding provision that allows states to allocate some HSIP funds for behavioral approaches or emergency medical services. Some states may be reluctant to use this provision, according to state officials we interviewed, partly due to an HSIP certification requirement that all state highway safety infrastructure needs have been met. Second, the rail-highway crossing set-aside program does not target a key safety priority ofsome states and provides significant funding to some crossing areas that have relatively few fatalities. Better alignment of federal funding with state priorities in their strategic plans could help ensure that HSIP funding best addresses those priorities. Lastly, as states implement the high-risk rural roads program, they are hindered by limited data on rural roads and crashes, which are needed to identify qualifying roadways and appropriate remedies. FHWA provided comprehensive guidance and training to assist states in preparing their strategic highway safety plans, and participated in states' strategic safety planning processes. FHWA's guidance to states on reporting their most hazardous locations took states' data limitations into account and gave states latitude in defining the methodology and scope of their 5 percent reports. Consequently, these reports vary in content and format and may not increase public awareness of highway safety as intended.
- Review Pending
- Closed - implemented
- Closed - not implemented
Matters for Congressional Consideration
Matter: To improve HSIP's effectiveness, Congress may wish to consider eliminating the requirement for states to prepare the 5 percent report, given states' current data limitations that hinder their complete and consistent reporting.
Comments: A new transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (P.L. 112-141) was enacted July 6, 2012. It will be reviewed to determine whether it included a response to this recommendation.
Matter: To better align HSIP funding with states' top safety priorities, Congress may wish to consider restructuring two of HSIP's statutory funding provisions by (1) modifying HSIP's flexible funding provision to either revise or eliminate the certification requirement so that states can more freely direct HSIP funds to behavioral and emergency medical services projects--rather than infrastructure improvement projects--when data analysis indicates more fatalities and serious injuries could be prevented by doing so and (2) revising the rail-highway crossing set-aside program to ensure that its funding level is more closely and appropriately tied to the number of fatalities and serious injuries that such improvements can be expected to prevent in the states, and to ensure that any resulting additional funds be directed to highway safety projects that promise greater benefits.
Comments: A new transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (P.L. 112-141) was enacted July 6, 2012. It will be reviewed to determine whether it included a response to these recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Recommendation: To help states fully implement the data-driven project selection process prescribed for HSIP, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FHWA Administrator to set a deadline for states to finalize development of the required roadway inventory data and to require states to submit schedules to FHWA for achieving compliance with this requirement.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation
Status: Closed - Not Implemented
Comments: FHWA was unable to fulfill this recommendation since they recommended, but did not require, that states develop a minimum set of safety data elements. FHWA, after assessing state capabilities to collect minimum data for all public roads, determined that, due to limited resources, it would be impractical for some states to collect the minimum data in the next 10 years. Therefore, FHWA proposed a safety data improvement program to help fund state collection and use of roadway data.
Recommendation: To help states fully implement the data-driven project selection process prescribed for HSIP, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FHWA Administrator to define which roadway inventory data elements--contained in its proposal for a Model Minimum Inventory of Roadway Elements, as appropriate--a state needs to meet federal requirements for HSIP.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation
Comments: FHWA, in June 2011, issued a report identifying 38 fundamental data elements needed to support a state's highway safety improvement program. These data elements were selected from a more comprehensive list of roadway and traffic data elements called the Model Inventory of Roadway Elements and published by FHWA in October 2010. FHWA, in July 2011, issued a memo to its division administrators asking them to inform state departments of transportation about the fundamental data elements identified in the June report and recommending that states strive to collect these data elements.