Optimizing Organizational Decision Making Structures for Integrated Roadway Safety Initiatives
Implementation of sustained roadway safety advances requires
leadership and commitment within transportation agencies, coupled with strong technical
and communication skills to support effective deployment of safety improvement
resources [1, 2].
In the United States, responsibility for oversight of the
transportation system and its users is highly fragmented. In addition to more
than 50 state and territorial transportation departments, the country has dozens
of tollway and toll bridge operators, along with more than 30,000 units of tribal,
county, and local government [3, 4].
Together, these entities share responsibility for the planning, design,
construction, operation, and management of the transportation system. Many of
these governmental units also influence roadway safety outcomes through their
responsibilities for post-crash response, incident management, law enforcement,
and the adjudication of criminal penalties and civil claims resulting from
The organizational structures related to roadway safety are
complex. Each governmental unit typically establishes separate groups for
functions such as engineering, enforcement, and education/outreach. Through
formal and informal channels, these groups interact with non-transportation agencies,
regional/metropolitan planning organizations, and non-governmental stakeholders
such as special interest groups, transportation companies, land owners, and
individual road users. The sheer number of actors involved in the
transportation system amplifies the complexity of its planning and management.
To illustrate, state transportation departments are large
agencies. In geographically compact states (such as Vermont) it is possible to
conduct the majority of DOT activities from a single location, while in larger
states (such as Ohio) there is typically a headquarters office and several
district or regional offices. In most cases, both headquarters and
district/region employees are affiliated with a specific “functional area.” Functional
areas with titles such as Design, Construction, Maintenance, Traffic
Engineering, Transportation System Management & Operations (TSMO), and
Planning, often have duties that strongly influence system safety. In many cases
a “safety group” has been established (often in the Planning or TSMO area).
While safety groups often serve as a hub for crash data and expertise on crash
countermeasures, their levels of human and financial resources are rarely
sufficient to coordinate all of the agency activities that affect system safety.
Federal regulations (beginning with The Moving Ahead for
Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) and continuing with the Fixing America’s
Surface Transportation (FAST) Act strongly supported the view that quality data
for all public roads provides the foundation for making important decisions
regarding the design, operation, and safety of roadways. The federal
regulations require states to maintain safety data (e.g., roadway, traffic, and
crash) systems with the ability to perform safety problem identification and countermeasure
analysis. Currently each jurisdiction collects safety data, sometimes just on
state roads and on different and sometimes incompatible databases. This results in the lack of integration of
safety data from all state and local sources thus inhibiting safe systems
County and municipal governments also vary widely in size
and staffing levels, but even the smallest are usually divided into
departments. Departments with titles such as Public Works, Street/Highway, and
Police/Sheriff strongly influence roadway safety, while Planning, Parks, and
Public Health influence safety to a lesser degree. In contrast to the state
level, except in the largest cities, it is rare for a county or municipality to
have a specific person or group devoted to transportation safety at the system
level. More likely, safety is a fractional job duty for a number of
The complexity of transportation system ownership and
decision-making is accompanied by imprecise (and often overlapping) responsibilities
for various organizational entities. As a result, it can be easy to “pass the
buck” when a safety problem is identified. For example, a transportation agency
might attribute run-off-the-road crashes at curves to insufficient enforcement,
while a police agency might view them as a roadway design problem well beyond
its authority and expertise.
Very often, the result of internal or interagency
disagreements about authority, resources, and priorities is inaction. In most cases, these missed
opportunities are not readily apparent to the public, or even to higher-level
decision makers. As the International Transport Forum observed, “[the] combination
of low visibility and weak risk perception can create a demand deficit for road
safety that undermines public and political support for policies that would
make traffic safer.”
The transportation community lacks clarity about how to
structure public agencies in a manner that best supports transportation system
safety. One manifestation of this uncertainty is debate about whether top-down
or bottom-up solutions are the best way to address safety issues. For example, New
York City’s successful Vision Zero program and the widespread deployment of
automated speed enforcement in France have both been associated with visible
support from a top elected official. Conversely, a reduction in casualties
involving schoolchildren in Japan was attributed to creating neighborhood-level
safety committees made up of school officials, road administrators, and local
Research is needed to contextualize these micro- and macro-scale approaches, considering
varying local attitudes and the differing levels of authority granted to state,
local, and tribal governments under the provisions of various state constitutions,
local charters, and other laws, as well as variations in the level of community
engagement required to sustain a safety transformation.
Since the way the internal structure of transportation
agencies affects the ability to address safety holistically, research
addressing the organizational dimensions of the safety problem should consider
the complexities of interagency relationships. These include:
Transportation agency coordination with other agencies
at the same level of government, such emergency response, law enforcement, natural
resources, and public health agencies.
Horizontal coordination among neighboring
Vertical coordination between the federal,
state, county, and local levels of government, as well as coordination with special
authorities, tribal governments, MPOs, etc.
Consistency of safety data collection and
The Transportation Research Board recently published Critical Issues
in Transportation 2019, which organizes the challenges facing the US
transportation system in 12 areas. This
problem statement addresses virtually every one of the 12 in one way or
another, but it appears to be most closely related to Public Health and Safety:
Safeguarding the Public and Governance: Governance: Managing Our Systems. The purpose of this project is to develop
case examples that illustrate organizational models successfully applied at the
state and local levels to accelerate and sustain reductions in transportation
deaths and serious injuries, supporting implementation of a Safe System
approach to roadway safety.
- The research should include a state-of-practice review
of roadway safety organizational structures currently used by state and local agencies
in the U.S., along with case examples describing the formal structures and
informal working practices of high-performing agencies.
- Organizational characteristics that support or
deter safety-related horizontal and vertical coordination should be
Transportation safety organizational structures used
by state/provincial, regional, county, and local agencies in countries with comparable
cultures (e.g., Australia, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom)
should be documented to identify relevant organizational features that can
potentially be incorporated into U.S. practice.
Noteworthy organizational features that support
multilateral coordination and systematic risk reduction in sectors such as
healthcare, national defense, and high-hazard industries (aviation, chemical
manufacturing, nuclear power, etc.) should also be identified.
Other important elements of the research include:
Incorporating previous research and guidance
such as NCHRP Synthesis 523:_ Integration
of Roadway Safety Data from State and Local Resources, NCHRP Synthesis 486: State Practices for Local Road Safety,_ the
OECD/ITF report_ Zero Deaths and Serious
Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift to a Safe System, and the SHRP2/AASHTO
TSM&O capability-maturity model. _
Identifying relationships between safety
outcomes and pre-existing organizational norms, such as leadership styles, communication
structures, data management systems, and information-sharing methods.
Determining the extent to which success in reducing
transportation casualties has been contingent on organizational champions such
as an agency chief executive or senior elected official.
Identifying differences between official
organizational structures and actual communication and leadership pathways, and
the extent to which successes were related to unofficial leaders, ad-hoc
working groups, or other back channels.
Identifying the extent to which organizational
structures have helped or hindered agencies’ ability to sustain their safety
efforts in the face of routine problems such as financial shortfalls, employee
turnover, and pressure from external groups whose policy objectives conflict
with roadway safety.
Determining the extent to which successes were
contingent on (or spurred by) specific safety incidents, transportation
projects, data integration, etc.
Identifying the role of safety targets in
motivating and sustaining the development of effective organizational
State and local
transportation agencies face rapidly-increasing pressure to deliver
quantifiable safety performance improvements. More and more, the elimination of
transportation-related deaths and serious injuries is being framed in new ways:
as an opportunity to slow the growth of medical costs, as critical public
health issue, as moral and ethical obligation, and (in New York City and
elsewhere) as an issue that matters to a wide range of citizens and can yield visible
With these changes
comes an urgent need to spread the implementation of safety principles to all
aspects of the planning, design, and operation of the road transportation
system . At present, most agencies are dependent on
a handful of advocates to convince others of the value of systematic approaches
to safety. To sustain a safety transformation, this must be supplanted by
institutional capacity for long-term efforts, backed by committed leadership.
To avoid being
caught flat-footed in a rapidly-changing policy environment, transportation
agencies must overcome organizational “silos” that impede progress toward
safety goals. This includes, for example, supporting better collaboration,
stronger partnerships, and improved internal and external coordination to
assure the rapid uptake of proven analytical tools and safety strategies, as
recommended in the Toward Zero Deaths
National Strategy, the National Safety Council’s recent Road to Zero report, and the AASHTO Standing Committee on Highway Traffic Safety
Strategic Plan [5-7].
research will address organizational dimensions of the road safety issue,
especially the interaction of “functional areas” within state transportation
departments and the interaction of “departments” within county and municipal
governments, by developing case examples that can serve as templates for
organizations seeking to improve their safety performance. Thus, the project
will provide results suitable for near-term implementation by a wide range of
state, county, and local agencies. Specifically, the findings from this project
will help illustrate organizational models that support improved safety
management and help address the need for safety partnerships, performance
management, workforce development, and technical capacity for data-driven decisions.
Thus, it supports organizational needs that have been identified in numerous local,
state, national, and international safety plans.
|Sponsoring Committee:||ACS10, Transportation Safety Management Systems
|Research Period:||24 - 36 months|
|RNS Developer:||Eric Tang, John Shaw, Sharon Newnam, Carlyn Muir, Tony Giancola, Dan Magri, Joe Marek, Susan Herbel|
|Source Info:||1. ITF, Zero Road Deaths and Serious Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift to a Safe System. 2016, OECD Publishing: Paris, France.|
2. Johnston, I.R., C. Muir, and E.W. Howard, Eliminating Serious Injury and Death from Road Transport. 2014, Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
3. United_States_Census_Bureau, Government Organization Summary Report: 2012. 2013, United States Census Bureau: Washington, DC.
4. Shaw, J.W., C. Muir, and D.A. Noyce, Developing Australia’s Highway Safety Professionals: What Can the United States Learn? Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2016. 2582: p. 87–94.
5. TZD_Steering_Committee, Toward Zero Deaths: A National Strategy on Highway Safety. 2014, TZD Steering Committee: Washington, DC.
6. RAND_Corporation, The Road to Zero: A Vision for Achieving Zero Roadway Deaths by 2050. 2018, National Safety Council and RAND Corporation: Santa Monica, CA.
7. AASHTO_SCOHTS, Strategic Plan - Standing Committee on Highway Traffic Safety 2011, American Association of State Highway Transportaion Officials - Standing Committee on Highway Traffic Safety: Washington, DC.
8. NCHRP Synthesis 523, Integration of Roadway Safety Data from State and Local Sources (2018)
|Index Terms:||Decision making, Highway safety, State departments of transportation, Transportation departments, |
Administration and Management
Safety and Human Factors