Low-cost safety enhancements

Low-cost safety enhancements are part of a systemic application of road and roadside treatments that can improve safety at intersections and along many miles of road. Enhancements can range from maintenance to safety features.

Key characteristics




WSDOT regions

Strategy description

An effective approach to improve roadway safety is to blanket a corridor, primary route or transportation system with a variety of low-cost safety enhancements. Systemically applying these countermeasures at a large number of intersections or roadway segments, can significantly reduce the number of collisions or conflicts.

Examples of low-cost safety enhancements include:

  • Vegetation clearing to improve sight lines at intersections
  • Warning (yellow and black) signs that indicate a potential hazard ahead, like a curve or intersection
  • Striping to show motorists the location of their lane and design of the roadway
  • Plastic delineators along the side of the road to indicate the location of the roadside
  • Rumble strips that provide an audible and tactile warning when a motorists leaves their lane
  • Changes to signal timing to provide extra time for pedestrians to cross, or for motorists to continue through the intersection after the light turns yellow

When to use this strategy

Low-cost safety enhancements are appropriate for all agencies and settings. They work well in a “tiered strategy” starting with the most basic and low-cost enhancements. In many cases, these treatments can have a significant impact, allowing safety experts to reserve higher-priced safety countermeasures for sites that do not respond to less-expensive solutions.

For agencies who lack quality data to invest in high-cost treatments, low-cost alternatives help because they can be spread across multiple locations. Collision history is usually required for large financial investments, but decision-makers are often sometimes willing to invest smaller amounts to prevent collisions at locations where a collision history is not available

Preventative safety programs lean heavily on low-cost enhancements, too, because in this case agencies attempt to address. locations with emerging safety concerns that have not yet suffered a collision.

There are several roadway features that benefit from low-cost safety enhancements:

  1. Signalized intersections
    Agencies can apply low-cost intersection safety enhancements to a large number of intersections. Examples include:
  • Signal timing improvements like adjusting yellow and all-red timing to provide sufficient clearance time between conflicting directions of traffic
  • Adding a separate, supplemental traffic signal to ensure approaching drivers can see the signal when their view is blocked (e.g., when driving around a curve or directly behind a large truck)
  • Allowing left-turning vehicles to only turn left on a green arrow, not a green ball or flashing yellow arrow
  • Backplates behind the signal heads to improve signal visibility
  1. Stop-controlled intersections
    Agencies can enhance safety at unsignalized intersections with low-cost treatments that make it easier for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists to see stop signs, and see others at the intersection. Treatments include adding signs and stripes, removing trees and bushes, and installing flashing beacons.
  2. Corridors
    Non-intersection collisions can occur at any location along a roadway, making corridors excellent candidates for low-cost treatments. For example, striping and rumble strips can reduce the number of run-off-road collisions.
  3. Curves
    An agency can apply a number of low-cost strategies, like signage and striping, to a single horizontal curve or a winding road section to address a safety problem.

Strategy benefits:

  • Scope
    Spreading low-cost treatments across a system can provide more safety benefits within a city, county, or state than focusing that same financial investment on a small number of high-cost enhancements.
  • Liability Protection
    By systematically analyzing corridors for safety improvements and prioritizing projects, agencies can clearly communicate how they identify needs and choose countermeasures. This established program reduces the agency’s tort liability exposure.
  • Quick implementation
    For example, on an intersection with roadside vegetation blocking driver views, agency maintenance staff can simply clear the brush from the side of the road.

What you need in order to implement

Policy needs:

  • Agencies should develop policies encouraging the use of low-cost enhancements in a tiered safety treatment strategy.

Planning needs:

  • Given that low-cost enhancements often do not require full planning and design, agencies should consider a placeholder for “Low-cost Safety Improvements” in their transportation improvement program funding packages.

Coordination needs:

  • Sometimes agencies can implement low-cost safety treatments with little coordination, using their own maintenance crews and operating budgets to purchase and install items, like signs and stripes. Coordination with property owners is needed if signs are installed near property lines or in highly-visible areas.

Equipment needs:

  • One benefit of low-cost solutions is that equipment needs are often minor. The most common equipment needs are for lawn care and basic sign installation.

Maintenance Needs:

  • All low-cost safety treatments require maintenance. For example, signs last approximately 10 years, but during that time they must also be inventoried to check for graffiti, removal, or vegetation that blocks the sign.

Agency resources needs:

  • Agency safety analysts who will identify needs, engineers to select and place enhancements, and maintenance staff to install the treatments. Sometimes agencies will need to hire outside resources to complete the work, so the agency may need to staff to manage the contract.

Learn more about this strategy

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Low-Cost Treatments for Horizontal Curve Safety, FHWA-SA-15-084, 2016. https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/roadway_dept/countermeasures/horicurves/fhwasa15084/

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Low-Cost Safety Enhancements for Stop-Controlled and Signalized Intersections, FHWA-SA-09-020, 2009.

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Low-Cost Safety Improvements for Rural Intersections Briefing Sheet, FHWA-SA-14-089, 2014 (PDF). https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/local_rural/training/fhwasa14089/low_cost_imp.pdf

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Systemic Approach to Safety website.


About key characteristics

Location notes:

Low-cost safety enhancements apply everywhere.

Cost notes:

Minimal investment is needed to implement low-cost safety enhancements.

Technology notes:

Low-cost safety enhancements typically require little technology.

Collaboration notes:

Collaboration is low because low-cost safety enhancements are often implemented within an agency's existing resources.

Need or issue this strategy addresses