Find the safest route for your road trip

Mary Lou Jay

Would you take the family minivan on a different route if you knew that one road was safer than another? Or encourage your teenage driver to stick to the interstate if you knew there were fewer crashes there than on a parallel dual-lane highway? You could be making those types of decisions within the next few years, thanks to the U. S. Road Assessment Program (usRAP) from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

AAA's usRAP is modeled after similar European and Australian programs. Its goal is to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on the country's roads by identifying the most dangerous stretches of highway. AAA hopes to not only alert drivers to the hazards on these stretches of road, but to enable and encourage highway agencies to put their limited dollars to use in fixing the worst roadways first.

AAA's usRAP uses five years of car crash and traffic data to develop safety risk maps that show the density of crashes per mile of road, the rate of crashes per 100 million miles of travel and the safety performance of a particular road compared with similar roads. The program also calculates how many lives could be saved and injuries avoided if the road were brought to safety standards of similar roads.

Another element of usRAP is its star ratings for safety. These give roads a one- to five-star designation (one being the least safe) based on engineering and safety features. Motorists can use this information, too, to help determine the safest routes to their destinations. Avoiding accident-prone roadways can help you avoid tragedy -- and keep your driving record clean and your auto insurance rates low.

AAA's usRAP has run three test phases and studied roadways in Iowa, Michigan, Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, Kentucky, New Mexico and Utah. AAA is working on funding that enable the program to be offered nationwide.

Meanwhile, if you can't wait for AAA to map the roads in your area, you may want to try an online tool that provides similar data. SafeRoadMaps.org was created in 2008 by the University of Minnesota's Center for Excellence in Rural Safety. Website visitors can enter a ZIP code to see where traffic deaths have occurred in that community. Clicking on a specific accident will provide additional details, such as the age of the driver and whether speeding or drinking was involved. While SafeRoadMaps doesn't give the road-by-road safety comparison that usRAP aims to provide, it can alert drivers to problem areas and encourage them to be more cautious on certain roads.

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