Safe System Approach - National Safety Council
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Safe System Approach

Welcome to the Safe System Working Group webpage, where policymakers, practitioners and the public can find information on increasing prioritization of safety programs by growing a strong safety culture and adopting the Safe System approach.  

Road to Zero is a national vision and strategy to reduce traffic-related serious injuries and fatalities to zero, because even one death is unacceptable. To achieve this, the Road to Zero Coalition has identified the need for a positive safety culture to prioritize safety and recognize the value of the Safe System approach. With a shared understanding, we can create this safety culture and adopt the Safe System approach. You will find links to relevant resources, tools and examples below.

Resources (Learn)

Safe System Approach

Defining the Safe System Approach: The Safe System Approach presentation by the Federal Highway Administration provides background, principles, core elements, examples and speaker notes, and can also be used for train-the-trainer purposes. View the webinar recording here.

Advocating for the Safe System Approach: The Safe System Consortium Report, led by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University, makes recommendations to Congress and the Biden Administration that can move the U.S. toward Vision Zero, while supporting a more equitable transportation system. Consortium members identified three areas for change: safety across the system, equity by investment and progress by design.

Implementing the Safe System Approach: The Safe System Strategic Plan is a roadmap for advancing the Safe System approach through the Road to Zero Coalition. It describes the process to build the plan and advance a Safe System mindset, and the role of road system owners and operators to design, build and operate safer roads, and take immediate action.

Traffic Safety Culture

Defining terms: Traffic safety culture, Vision Zero and the Safe System approach: How are these concepts different yet related to each other? How does a positive traffic safety culture enable the Safe System approach? Vision Zero is our target, and the Safe System approach is our strategy. 

What is traffic safety culture? This Center for Health and Safety Culture primer defines traffic safety culture and its influence. Traffic safety culture is "the shared belief system of a group of people, which influences road user behaviors and stakeholder actions that impact traffic safety.” To sustain the Safe System approach, we must create a safety culture that prioritizes safety, values the goals of Vision Zero and believes in the principles of the Safe System approach. Watch Traffic Safety Culture Primer for Traffic Safety Professionals.

Events and Opportunities (Engage)

Launch of a global plan of action for road safety and U.S. support: U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced his support for the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2020-2030 Global Plan. Launched Oct. 28, the plan emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach to road safety and continued improvements in the design of roads and vehicles; enhancement of laws and law enforcement; and provision of timely, life-saving emergency care for the injured.

Protecting Vulnerable Road Users Through a Safe System Approach: Identified by the National Transportation Safety Board as a Most Wanted List for highways, NTSB has been conducting a roundtable series on the Safe System approach, backed by NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy.

Relaunch of the US Congressional Road Safety Caucus: U.S. Reps. Richard Hudson (NC-08) and Steve Cohen (TN-09) announced the relaunch of the Congressional Global Road Safety Caucus, which “will continue to bring awareness to road safety initiatives and mobilize Congressional support to tackle this significant domestic and global health and safety crisis."

Tools (Apply)

Safe System Approach

Where can I get more examples? ITE has developed a Safe System Resource Hub to learn more about the Safe System approach and how to implement it in the U.S. It includes guiding international documents that have informed application in the U.S., as well as the latest resources being released to support transportation professionals implementing the Safe System approach.

University of North Carolina also created guidance on how to develop and implement a Safety System Approach to support Vision Zero. 

Traffic Safety Culture

How to change stakeholder culture: NCHRP has published Successful Approaches for the Development of an Organization-Wide Safety Culture in Transportation Agencies. Road users and organizations with a role in transportation safety implicitly accept the levels of risk inherent in the system. Changing the safety culture entails enhancing everyone’s understanding of what these risk levels are, how their actions influence their own and others’ risks, and actions to reduce risk in general. 

Growing a positive traffic safety culture: NCHRP also produced a Strategic Approach to Transforming Traffic Safety Culture. A key element of the Toward Zero Deaths National Strategy on Highway Safety is the transformation of the traffic safety culture among all U.S. road users, including non-motorized users. This transformation would not only support road user decisions to behave safely but would also increase their support for strategies that increase traffic safety.

Strategies to transform culture: One way to change traffic safety culture is to change the shared beliefs through the messaging and conversations we create as stakeholders. Watch Communication: A Catalyst for Growing a Positive Culture and Traffic Safety Culture Messaging.

How to measure success: Tools for Evaluating Traffic Safety Culture Strategies analyzes evaluations of culture-focused interventions across a variety of settings and identifies patterns that could be useful to researchers and practitioners.

Examples (See and Listen)

Learning from peers: Shelly Baldwin, director of the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, talks about the change in traffic safety culture within the agency that changed their approach to traffic safety and the types of safety programs they prioritized. Watch here.

Case studies: Here are some examples of case studies showing success with the Safe System Approach, Vision Zero, and transformation of traffic safety culture.

Implementing changes at the state level and transforming safety culture: Get examples from the field in Utah and Minnesota.

Safe System Frequently Asked Questions