John W. Gibbons, 76, who retired in 1972 as public relations director of the Highway Users Federation, died of cancer April 19 at the Washington Adventist Hospital. He lived in Silver Spring.

He moved to Washington and joined the Automotive Safety Foundation, now part of the HUF, in 1942. During the next 30 years, in addition to working with the trade organization, he served as a government consultant and was active in professional organizations.

Mr. Gibbons was a writer with the Clay Commission, which formulated the charter for the interstate highway network, and served as public information secretary for the first White House Safety Conference in 1946. He held a similar post with the President's Highway Safety Committee until 1965. He also was a member of the board of the National Safety Council.

He was a charter member of the Public Relations Society of America, a past president of its Washington chapter, and chairman of its association section in 1966. He edited a 1958 edition of the "Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science" that was devoted to traffic safety. He was a member of the National Press Club.

Mr. Gibbons was born in Utah and reared in Idaho. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1930, he worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Indiana, Idaho and Oregon. He worked for the Automobile Manufacturers Association in New York and Detroit before moving here.

Survivors include his wife, Marcella, of Silver Spring; a son, John, of Huntsville, Ala.; four daughters, Sally Wilding of Silver Spring, Mary Beatrice John of Oxon Hill, Joan Devore of Arlington, and Sue Harker of Aurora, Ill.; a brother, Stuart of Boise, Idaho; a sister, Margie Horsburgh of Holton, Mass., and 17 grandchildren.