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Driving Designs: Seven Smart Features for Safe Streets

By Julie E. Lee, Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety in the Education and Outreach group at AARP

Julie Lee

Just think, when today’s 60-year old driver was born, the interstate highway system didn’t exist. Since then, American road design has evolved to improve the flow of traffic and safety for all, including drivers, passengers, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Safety Program researches roadway safety designs and technologies, and determines which features make roadway travel safer. The agency has released guidance on safety measures that many Americans can expect to see on their roadways soon. Drive smart by being aware of the changes taking place on your roads, and taking the time to understand how they work:

  1. Safety Edge: Many new roadways are built with safety edges. These are edges that slope downward at an angle of about 30 degrees. They make it easier for drivers who go off the road to transition their vehicle back onto it.
  2. Corridor Access Management: “Access management” is the term for controlled entry and exit to roadways. State and local governments use access management to improve traffic flow, reduce crashes and limit potential vehicle conflicts. You’ve seen plenty of examples, including circular intersections (roundabouts) and restricted movement like “right-in” and “right-out” only driveways. According to the Highway Safety Manual, effective access management reduces crashes.
  3. Backplates with Retroreflective Borders: “Backplates” are metal plates behind traffic signals that enhance their visibility. They feature both a contrasting background and a reflective border. According to the FHWA, back plates reduce unintentional red-light running crashes at intersections. Traffic signals with backplates are easier to see in both the daytime and nighttime. This may prove especially helpful for older drivers experiencing a natural loss of sensitivity to visual contrast.
  4. Medians and Pedestrian Crossing Islands in Urban and Suburban Areas: These are raised areas between opposing lanes of traffic. They are designed to separate traffic and provide refuge for pedestrians crossing the road. Such features reduce pedestrian crashes and enhance the visibility of the crossings. Crossing islands can be especially helpful for older pedestrians or individuals with limited mobility, who may need more time to cross multi-lane intersections.
  5. Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon: This pedestrian-activated warning device alerts drivers to a pedestrian sidewalk, allowing individuals to cross the street safely. The “beacon head” is a triangular traffic signal with two red lenses above a single yellow lens. When a pedestrian pushes a button signaling her intention to cross, the beacon briefly flashes its yellow lens, warning drivers to slow down. Then it displays a steady red light, signaling drivers to stop. This technology has been shown to reduce pedestrian crashes by 69 percent and reduce total roadway crashes by 29 percent. Expect to see more of them in urban areas. This video tutorial shows pedestrian hybrid beacons in action.
  6. Road “Diets” (Roadway Reconfiguration): Road diets convert a four-lane roadway into a three-lane roadway with two through lanes and a center two-way left-turn lane. This more efficient use of roadway space allows for shared turn lanes and bicycle lanes. Research shows this design reduces the number of rear end and sideswipe crashes, and improves safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.
  7. Enhanced Delineation and Friction for Horizontal Curves: “Enhanced delineation” includes tools such as raised reflective poles that highlight the separation of road sections (like medians and highway shoulders) and signal an upcoming curve. Coupled with these delineators are new techniques to increase road friction at curves. The increased friction helps tires to better grip the road, reducing the likelihood of losing control. The “one-two punch” of better warnings and enhanced road grip makes curves safer for travelers.

For more information about these new driving designs, visit FHWA or take the new AARP Smart Driver Course—AARP Driver Safety’s flagship offering and the nation’s first and largest refresher course designed specifically for older drivers. The AARP Smart Driver Course is available in a classroom and online, in both English and Spanish. In some states, you may even be eligible for a multi-year insurance discount upon completion of the course.*

For more information, visit or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).

*The insurance premium discount is not available in all states for the online or the classroom versions of the course. Please consult your insurance agent for further details.


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Julie E. Lee is Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She directs the largest driver improvement course in America designed for drivers age 50 and older. She can be reached at .

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