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Highway Safety Improvement Program: Roles of Traffic Control Equipment

Traffic control equipment plays a significant role in carrying out any comprehensive Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP).  As defined by legal terms, HSIP refers to a project that either corrects a hazardous road feature or promotes highway safety in general.  Some common activities that fall under this designation include:


  • Widening a shoulder or section of pavement.  This may include adding a passing lane.
  • Installing rumble strips or other warning devices.  To meet the definition of HSIP, these modifications must not impair the safety or mobility of pedestrians or bike riders.
  • Installing skid-resistant material at a location with an unusually high frequency of crashes.
  • Installing or modifying safety or mobility enhancements for pedestrians, bike riders, or those with physical challenges.
  • Installing devices or features at railway crossings to lessen the likelihood of train-vehicle crashes.
  • Adding traffic-calming features such as speed bumps or caution lights.
  • Removing existing roadside hazards.
  • Adding guardrails, construction or traffic lane barriers, or crash attenuators, which are devices designed to reduce the amount of damage done to a vehicle during an accident.
  • Adding or modifying structures to reduce the chances of a vehicle-wildlife collision.
  • Adding signs or signals in school zones or at pedestrian or bicycle crossings.
  • Conducting safety projects on high-risk rural roads.


A Proactive Approach to Highway Safety Improvement

In the past, road safety was governed by a reactive strategy. An accident would have to occur before authorities would correct any infrastructure issues that may have contributed to the incident.  This approach did little in the way of research and statistical analysis to predict what road areas might be at a higher risk for crashes, which permitted potentially avoidable property damage, pain and suffering, and loss of life to occur.  Under current HSIP directives, state highway agencies are now encouraged to act in a proactive fashion in addressing potential road hazards.  This approach has included the following efforts:


  • Observing traffic patterns to identify problem spots that are likely to result in future accidents.  Things like unmarked pedestrian crossings create numerous potential hazards for foot traffic, especially if the volume of motorists or walkers has increased due to construction or economic growth in the area.
  • Correcting conditions at locations where high-risk factors are already in place.  An existing intersection may not have an unusually high number of accidents associated with it, but if field workers judge that the likelihood of future incidents is high, authorities may take preventative measures like installing high-visibility markers or anti-skid materials to help lower the number of crashes that occur in the future.
  • Conducting follow-up research to determine whether the changes have enhanced safety at the location and, if they have, using this as a benchmark for planning future projects.


Specific Roles for Traffic Safety Products in Highway Safety Improvement Programs

The following are some ways that common traffic safety products can improve conditions in high-risk sections of America’s road system:


  • Flashing warning lights can alert motorists to an upcoming crosswalk, sharp curve, railway crossing, or intersection.
  • High reflectivity signs can help drivers with declining visual abilities see important notices like speed limit changes or alerts about roadside conditions.
  • Permanent bollards can mark raised medians or refuge islands to enhance pedestrian safety.
  • Mobile bollards can alert motorists to temporary circumstances that require them to slow down and exercise special caution. For example, temporary markers can be used in school zones at the times of days when students are arriving or leaving, then taken down when students are not present.
  • Traffic cones, movable barricades, and similar products can mark areas where roadway repairs or construction are taking place.
  • Crossing gates, warning sirens, or flashing lights can be added to railway crossings to lessen the likelihood of collisions at these sites.


Moving Towards a Safer Future

Proactive highway improvements can lessen the likelihood of accidents and improve the overall driving experience for all motorists. The best time to solve a safety problem is before it causes injury or death, and traffic control equipment will play a vital role in these efforts to create a safer roadway environment.