The Contribution of ITS to Rural Safety: A Look at Crashes in Washington State

Increasingly, transportation professionals are using technology, known as Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), to address transportation problems. This paper investigates the potential applications of ITS to safety issues on rural roadways in Washington. The most frequent type of rural crashes and their causal factors are identified from the state's Collision Report Form. The ability of ITS applications to reduce these types of crashes is then discussed.

In Washington, the factor that contributes most to rural crashes is human behavior. Some ITS applications, such as speed warning systems, may be good solutions at known hazardous locations. However, most human behavioral issues, such as inattention or poor driver judgment, cannot be directly addressed by ITS applications that are currently available.

In Washington, crashes due to some aspect of the roadside environment involved about one-third of the vehicles. ITS offer a viable alternative to traditional engineering solutions for a number of these types of crashes by informing drivers about roadside hazards. ITS weather systems and traveler information systems in general, can indirectly improve rural safety by providing information about travel and roadway conditions. Rural intersections, work zones, and railroad crossings are other potentially hazardous areas where ITS may be useful.

The final factor that contributes to a small percentage of rural crashes is the vehicle and ITS applications may help indirectly by making trucks more compliant with safety laws and by improving the efficiency of safety inspections.

ITS emergency notification systems also offer some safety benefits by mitigating some of the consequences of rural crashes.

For the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), a handful of ITS safety applications have been well enough tested that they can be aggressively used as tools to reduce rural crashes. However, many more ITS safety applications, although promising, still need to be fully documented and would be best applied in this state as a demonstration of future potential. Most of these applications would warn drivers about road and roadside hazards. The greatest benefit from ITS for rural safety may come from future applications that will address rural crashes caused by human behavior. These applications will evolve from a number of the large federal research projects that are under way and are still a number of years away from providing benefits on a wide scale. Given their potential impact on rural safety, WSDOT should monitor these projects closely.
Publication Date: 
Friday, January 1, 1999
Publication Number: 
WA-RD 460.1
Last modified: 
10/12/2016 - 15:42
Edward D. McCormack, Bill Legg.
Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC)
Number of Pages: 
Highway factors in accidents, Highway safety, Human factors in accidents, Intelligent transportation systems, Roadside hazards, Rural highways, Traveler information and communication systems, Trucking safety, Vehicle factors in accidents, Warning devices, Weather.