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Directions in Highway Safety, Summer 2009 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Summer 2009 | Vol. 12 | No. 2

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U.S. ‘Hot Zones’ Revealed by University of Minnesota

Just a few days before the 4th of July—the most dangerous travel day of the year—rural transportation safety experts at the University of Minnesota revealed an updated national website that helps drivers identify the most dangerous portions of their trip.

The website, SafeRoadMaps.org, identifies crash locations through an online, searchable map. Although the service was started a year ago by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS), the website now features the nation’s Top 100 “Hot Zones,” which are rural areas that have experienced the most fatalities over the past five years. Users can view the “Hot Zones” on a national map, or they can zoom in to see the exact portion of road that is flagged.

Hot Zones Website

Other new features include the option to enter a zip code, municipality name or street address to view a map or satellite image of all road fatalities in that spot for the past five years. Details, including seat belt use at the time of the crash and local policies, are included in the maps.

The online database is not only being used by drivers to view their daily routes, but also by driver education teachers to illustrate the need for safe driving, and by transportation officials who wish to pinpoint places in need of change.

“Whether you’re a driver, policymaker, or a road engineer, this is an eye opener,” commented Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), who is also the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Oberstar, who helped create CERS in 2005, said that, “Crash data used to be stored in huge dusty stacks of paper in Washington, D.C. We’ve made sure the information is instantly available on millions of screens, and it is available in a dramatically visual and customized format. This is as important to better highway safety as the interstate map was to achieving national mobility.”

CERS Director Lee Munnich adds, “SafeRoadMaps is not about casting blame. This is about making sure drivers are informed and safe, and policymakers have a userfriendly tool to guide their safetyrelated decisions.”

The database aims to make people more aware about rural hot spots since the U.S. Census figures show that one out of five Americans live in rural areas, yet six out of ten highway deaths happen on rural roads. Twenty-nine states have rural hot spots on the list, but the ten states with the most are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

“Our listing of the top 100 was a first step toward thinking about targeted safely awareness that would make these and other related clusters safer, recognizing of course that there is a strong behavioral dimension to being safer”, noted Tom Horan, research director for CERS. “And, as we launched this second version, we have been impressed by the interest from numerous stakeholders— policymakers, media, and the public. The first day of the release we had coverage in about 50 media outlets and had a 1/4 million website hits. But, more importantly, we see this as a continuing effort to make the traffic safety issue more visible, local, and accessible.”

The site also lists urban hot spots. Eighteen states have urban hot spots.

To view the website, visit saferoadmaps.org.