Study Credits Increase in Safety Projects for Reduction in Traffic Fatalities

(Washington, DC) - A new report released June 29 credits major federal funding increases for roadway safety engineering projects for the dramatic reduction in highway fatalities between 2006 and 2009.

The study, Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) Obligations and Fatalities on U.S. Highways: Final Report, prepared for the American Traffic Safety Services Association by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), examines engineering funding increases provided under the 2005-2009 federal-aid highway law.*

With sharp safety project funding increases beginning in 2006, the report analyzes the extent to which the new HSIP program can be credited with the reduction in fatalities that started around the same time, following a 10-year period with little change. For years that figure fluctuated slightly, but remained around 42,000.  By 2009, following annual reductions since 2006, the number of deaths had fallen to 33,963.

As fatalities decline, a variety of non-engineering factors have been commonly hypothesized as responsible, such as the temporary reduction in driving that occurred with the economic downturn and fuel price spikes of 2008.   SAIC found that none of the commonly cited reasons sufficiently explains the sharp decrease in deaths seen since the HSIP program was created.  Rather, the report found that the HSIP program spending changes correlated with the sharp decrease in traffic fatalities.  Further, the report estimates that the United States realizes an annual savings of $42.7 million for every $1 million increase of HSIP funds spent.

The report also discusses the lasting safety impact by each safety investment made to a road. Expenditures on safety countermeasures such as median and roadside barriers, rumble strips, and retroreflective signs and markings “…impact traffic safety not just in the year they were deployed, but in every future year.” As new projects are completed, the report notes, an accumulation of safety measures is likely to continue driving down fatalities.

“This report makes it crystal clear that modern engineering enhancements are making our drivers and passengers much safer and these investments are going to continue to save tens of thousands of families from heartbreak,” said Greg Cohen, Executive Director of the Roadway Safety Foundation. “It is critical that we prioritize systemic safety improvements on our nation’s roads and bridges in the years ahead to continue this trend.  We can’t forget that road crashes are the #1 killer of children and young adults aged 3 34.”

“This study shines a much needed light on perhaps the most overlooked element of our success on the road to zero fatalities, the importance of a well-funded, safety engineering program,” said Cohen, noting “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency responsible for compiling highway fatality data, does not have jurisdiction over funding engineering projects, which are under the purview of the Federal Highway Administration.  Unfortunately, when national highway fatality data is publicly released, the releases often highlight NHTSA programs as the primary contributors to progress.  This study should help to better balance these releases in the future.”

The full report is available online, at

RSF is the only national organization solely dedicated to reducing deaths by improving the physical characteristics of America’s roadways - design and engineering, operating conditions, removal of roadside hazards, and the effective use of safety features. RSF works to attain its goals by building awareness through media campaigns and outreach activities, developing educational materials and forming roadway safety partnerships between the private and public sectors.  For additional information on RSF please visit

* SAFETEA-LU, also known as “The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficiency Transportation Equity Act:  A Legacy for Users”, is the federal law that set national transportation safety policy from 2005 to 2009 and created the new core safety engineering program, HSIP.  SAFETEA-LU expired on September 30, 2009 and Congress has failed to reach consensus on a successor bill.  Since October, federal-aid highway funding has been extended through a series of short-term continuing resolutions.