People, vehicles and roadways are all part of the Highway Transportation System (HTS), a complex system designed to move people and things safely and efficiently from one place to another.

Simple neighborhood lanes, complex superhighways, and every kind of street in between make up approximately 4 million miles of roadway that link every state, county, city, and town in America. Every day, these roads are traveled by more than 180 million people driving, riding, or walking. Spread out evenly, that’s over 45 people per mile. Of course, we know that some roads are traveled more heavily than others. With so much traffic in so little space traveling at speeds up to 75 miles per hour, you might expect a few collisions-and you will find them. In a given year, any driver stands a 1 in 9 chance of being in a collision. A safe driver must learn how to interact with various types of drivers in various types of vehicles on a variety of different roadways; and to do so without collisions, traffic violations, or near misses. Before examining how a driver is to drive safely, let’s look at how roadways are designed to keep drivers and passengers safe.

The HTS is regulated jointly by federal, state, and local governments. The federal government sets minimum standards by which all state and local governments must abide. State and local governments that follow these guidelines receive federal funding to maintain certain aspects of the HTS. Federal laws also establish state rights regarding driver and roadway safety. Some examples of federal laws follow:

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety act requires vehicle manufacturers to include certain safety features like safety belts or shatterproof glass in their vehicles.

The National Highway safety act provides guidelines that states must follow. These guidelines set minimum standards for driver licensing, vehicle registration, highway construction, highway maintenance, traffic laws, and traffic court. This federal law gives each state the authority to set its own laws, such as Graduated Driver Licensing laws, so long as they do not conflict with federal rules and standards. Counties, cities, and towns also pass traffic laws, such as establishing school zones and speed limits on city streets, to make those streets safer for citizens.

Early roads in America were based on trade routes and exploration routes. Increased population, vehicle speed, and roadway usage now require that a corps of engineers be involved in the planning, grading, banking, paving, curving, and bridging of new roads. Local roads are given names that often reflect the history and culture of the town. State and federal highways are given numbers that follow conventional rules. Roads traveling North and South have odd numbers with the number sequence increasing as you travel West to East. Roads traveling East and West have even numbers with the highest number farthest North.

Innovations in highway design are making modern roadways safer than ever. Today’s high speed roadways separate traffic moving in opposite directions with a wide median-a concrete or grassy structure in between the lanes. It is not uncommon for newly constructed highways to include rumble strips along the outer boundary of the lane. These ridges in the pavement will cause tires to make a loud “rumbling” noise and cause the whole vehicle to vibrate if the driver drifts to the edge of the road. Reflective paints and nodes are now used to separate lanes of traffic because they are easy to see both at day and night. Highways and interstates will, by design, have a shoulder, a strip of land along the roadway that may be paved, gravel or dirt. Shoulders should be engineered to support the weight of an automobile, leaving a place for drivers to stop in an emergency. They are not, however, designed to support extensive driving. Other safety features one may encounter on highways may include guard rails, street lights, and electronic notification signs. These features, as well as vehicle safety technologies, are in place to protect drivers from the dangers inherent in driving; however, the number one cause of collisions is driver error.

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