High Risk Rural Roads Program
Rural roads are the most dangerous roads in America. NHTSA reports that—nationwide, for the years 2000 through 2007—rural traffic fatality rates were more than twice that of urban areas. According to the FHWA, crashes on rural roads tend to be more severe for a number of reasons.
- Rural collectors and local roads tend to lack features such as paved shoulders, clear zones, and divided directions of travel.
- Rural roads tend to have higher average vehicle speeds, partially due to relatively low volumes.
- Data indicates there is typically more alcohol involvement in fatal crashes in rural crashes and, in addition, rural areas have lower safety belt usage.
- When a crash does occur, medical facilities tend to be at greater distances and, as a result, crash victims have longer wait times for medical treatment.
NHTSA also reported that in 2009, among all crashes that occurred on rural roadways, 80.6‰ of them were run-off-the-road crashes. Contributing factors include curved roads, high speed limit roads, fewer lanes, young drivers, speeding, alcohol use, driver performance related factors (sleepiness, inattentiveness, over-correction, crash-avoiding), and adverse weather conditions.
The FHWA defines a High Risk Rural Road (HRRR) as "any roadway functionally classified as a rural or minor collector or rural local road on which the accident rate for fatalities and incapacitating injuries exceeds the statewide average for functional classes of roadway; or that will likely have increases in traffic volume that are likely to create an accident rate for fatalities and incapacitating injuries that exceeds the statewide average for those functional classes of roadway."
Low-cost engineering improvements such as attention-getting signage, highly-visible road markings, curve delineation and other positive guidance measures help reduce risk and costly crashes.
Under MAP-21, separate funding for HRRRs was eliminated. Instead, HRRRs are simply eligible for funding under the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). In addition:
- If a state’s fatality rate on rural roads increases over a two-year period, the state will be required to spend in the next fiscal year at least 200 percent of its 2009 HRRR funding for projects on rural roads.
- The Secretary of Transportation is required to complete a study of best practices in cost-effective HRRR safety improvements and the reduction in fatalities and serious injuries resulting from those improvements. Based on the study, the Secretary is required to develop a HRRR best practices manual with recommendations on implementation of cost-effective HRRR safety solutions.
- HSIP-eligible projects include:
- "installation, replacement, and other improvement of highway signage and pavement markings, or a project to maintain minimum levels of retroreflectivity;"
- a project to maintain minimum levels of retroreflectivity "without regard to whether the project is included in an applicable State strategic highway safety plan."
- intersection safety improvement;
- installation of yellow-green signs at pedestrian and bicycle crossings and in school zones;
- construction and operational improvements on high risk rural roads;
- older driver safety infrastructure improvements;
- systemic safety improvements (i.e., "an improvement that is widely implemented based on high-risk roadway features that are correlated with particular crash types, rather than crash frequency");
- collection, analysis, and improvement of safety data.
- "Minimum levels of retroreflectivity" projects were added to the list of safety improvements, including traffic signs and pavement marking upgrades, that can be funded at up to 100 percent federal share.