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Division of Planning
Systems Planning & Program Management
Highway Safety Common Questions

Throughout the year, the Ohio Department of Transportation gets hundreds of questions regarding its highway safety programs.  Below are some of the most frequently asked questions. 

What is ODOT responsible for?

ODOT is responsible for all Interstates, and State and U.S. routes outside of incorporated limits. Safety improvements at railroad crossings are handled by the Ohio Rail Development Commission.

How does ODOT identify a “safety location?”

Because ODOT has limited funding, the department must focus its efforts on the high and severe crash locations statewide.  These locations are identified using crash records collected from law enforcement agencies and compiled by the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Each year, ODOT analyzes this data to compile a list of the top safety locations in Ohio using a variety of criteria.  ODOT focuses on locations with a higher-than-expected number of crashes, including severe crashes, and locations with the greatest potential to reduce crashes.

How does ODOT address these locations?

Each ODOT District Office is required to conduct engineering studies on high-crash and severe-crash locations to identify strategies to reduce crashes and congestion, then prioritize projects for available funding.

Because the vast majority of crashes are caused by driver error, the department also works with the Ohio Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement agencies to encourage safe driving behaviors through education and enforcement.  Many crashes can be prevented through regular seat belt use, lower speeds, greater attention to the road and by avoiding alcohol and drugs while driving. 

How much does ODOT spend each year on safety?

The department spends about $72 million annually on safety improvement projects.  This ranks among the highest rate of spending in the nation.  The department spends hundreds of millions more on safety-related projects as part of its $1.5 billion annual construction program.  Despite this robust spending, there are more safety locations than dollars available to fund their improvement.

How are safety studies conducted?

Safety studies are a systematic approach to identifying the root causes of crashes so the department can develop good strategies for improving locations. To determine the cause of crashes and the roadway deficiencies that may contribute to them, each study must include a thorough review of crash data and a field review to document existing roadway conditions. The information gathered is then summarized to identify crash patterns, probable causes and determine the appropriate strategies for reducing crashes.  This information is reviewed by a District Safety Review Team, which includes people with expertise in engineering, law enforcement and construction. 

Why are safety studies necessary?

Each location must be studied to be sure the department is pinpointing the right causes of crashes and implementing the right strategies to reduce them. Without careful consideration of the facts, it is possible to misdiagnose the cause and remedy, and implement improvements that solve one crash problem but create others.

Who is eligible to apply for ODOT safety funding and how?

ODOT District Offices and local government officials are eligible to apply for ODOT safety funding.  Federal safety funding is eligible for improvements on any public roadway, and state funding is eligible for projects on the state highway system.  Applications for funding are accepted April 30th and September 30th of each year.  We suggest contacting the District Safety Coordinator at least 6 weeks in advance of this deadline.

What are the most common mistakes found in safety studies submitted to ODOT?

The most successful studies include a detailed description of the existing roadway conditions from roadway alignment, signals, signs and pavement markings to nearby land use and access points onto the roadway. Sketches and photos of the location are also helpful.  Each study should also include good crash data to support the recommended changes.  Documentation should include a summary of crash trends, illustrative charts and graphs, as well as collision diagrams or schematics, which illustrate the types of crashes, times, dates, severity, weather conditions and roadway characteristics. 

How long does it take to study and fix a problem?

The time varies greatly based on the complexity of the project and the funding available.  ODOT’s Safety Program requires project sponsors to examine a full range of options to provide flexibility in responding quickly.  Most project strategies include short-term, low-cost fixes, such as new signs and pavement markings that can be implemented quickly, as well as mid and long-term fixes that require more extensive reconstruction and cost.  Short-term, low-cost projects can typically be implemented within a few months, while other projects that require environmental mitigation, or involve complex engineering design and or utility and right of way relocation, may take several years.   In all cases, ODOT encourages sponsors to act as quickly as possible. 

How can I get a signal erected in my area?

Because signals can have unintended consequences, the department must carefully consider each one to ensure the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. When used appropriately, traffic signals can be a good tool to control traffic at busy intersections and reduce the frequency and severity of certain types of crashes, including angle collisions caused by turning motorists.  However, unnecessary signals can cause excessive delays and potentially contribute to other crash types, especially rear-end collisions. 

The first step in getting a signal is to determine which government agency has jurisdiction and contact them.  If ODOT has jurisdiction, contact the District Safety Coordinator in your area, who will perform a “warrant analysis,” to see if a signal at the location would meet national and state criteria for installation. 

Typically, locations must have a minimum volume of traffic entering the intersection to warrant signalization.  In some instances, a documented crash problem may permit the traffic volume requirements to be reduced. However, many locations may meet the criteria, but are denied because of poor roadway geometry (ex. location on a curve), motorist delays and/or close proximity to other signals.

How are speed limits set, lowered, or raised?

The Ohio Revised Code (state law) sets the general speed limits for specific types of roadway so motorists can expect uniform speeds as they travel across the state. Speeds are assigned based on various factors such as traffic volume, roadway characteristics (two-lane, four-lane, etc.) and land use (urban, rural, neighborhood, business district, etc.). 

In most cases, to lower or raise existing speed limits requires ODOT approval, regardless of jurisdiction.  ODOT requires an engineering study, which includes a review of traffic volume, crashes, roadway features, land use and vehicle speeds to justify the request. ODOT carefully considers each request because if speeds are set too high or low it can lead to an increase in accidents.

When setting speed limits it is important that the majority of drivers consider the speed reasonable.  Studies have shown that motorists typically drive at a speed they are comfortable with.  Raising or lowering speeds does not have a significant effect on actual speeds.  However, when speeds are set at a level most drivers consider reasonable, actual vehicle speeds are uniform, which is safer.

How can I request a flashing light?

Flashing lights over intersections are typically used in conjunction with a sign to bring attention to unusual or unexpected conditions. They are a good tool when used sparingly and at intersections with poor visibility and a history of accidents.  When flashing lights are overused, they become too common to motorists, who in turn tune them out.  If the location is within ODOT’s jurisdiction, contact the District Safety Coordinator for your area.  Each coordinator will review the request and make a determination based on engineering judgment.

What are the common causes of crashes on Ohio’s two-lane roads?

The number of crashes and the severity of crashes on Ohio's two-lane roads is a growing concern.  While the majority of all crashes occur on more heavily traveled urban routes, the severity tends to be higher on rural routes because the speeds are higher and the road less forgiving to mistakes.  The primary causes of crashes include:

Speed: High speeds are a common problem at many of the rural intersections ODOT studies for improvement.  Two-lane roads are meant to be driven at a maximum speed of 55 mph, but many motorists travel much faster. Crashes often occur when motorists are trying to merge safely from an intersection into speeding traffic.

Growth: As development spreads from cities into rural areas, traffic often overwhelms two-lane routes.  Most rural roads are about 20 feet wide and were built at the turn of the century when they served a couple hundred cars daily.  Today, these roads serve about 5,000 to 15,000 vehicles a day, including large trucks.  

State and local governments are doing what they can to address these problems and reduce crashes, but these problems are costly and not easily solved. For example, to upgrade these highways to today's standards would cost billions of dollars. Improvements and expansions are also difficult to implement due to opposition from local property owners and difficulties in securing environmental permits.

ODOT does, however, apply various traffic and engineering techniques to reduce crashes such as adding turn lanes, widening shoulder areas, and adding signs. In addition, changing dangerous behaviors, such as recklessness, drunken driving or speeding are difficult for ODOT to control.

How does congestion contribute to crash problems?

As congestion continues to grow statewide, so does the number and frequency of crashes. 

Congestion and crashes are caused by a number of factors, including growth, outdated highway design and driver error.  Local transportation networks are frequently overwhelmed by new homes and businesses that go up faster than our collective ability to make road improvements.  In addition, it can be difficult to make improvements in urban areas because right of way is scarce and projects are costly.

Congestion is also caused by outdated highway design.  Many of Ohio’s interstate corridors were built during the late ‘60s when traffic volume was much lower.  Expanding and improving these facilities can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  In addition, driver error accounts for about 80 percent of all accidents on Ohio roadways. Freeway accidents are typically caused by driver inattention, impatience and speeding, which can lead to rear-end collisions, angle and side-swipe crashes.