“Safe System” has been defined in various ways by the transportation community. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) defined it as “[t]he basic strategy…to ensure that, in the event of a crash, the impact energies remain below the threshold likely to produce either death or serious injury” (OECD International Transport Forum, 2008). This definition acknowledges that road users make mistakes. In the Safe Road Transport System Model, safe speeds represent the primary pathway towards a safer system, followed by safe vehicles, safe roads, and safe road users. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) explains the Safe System approach as differing from conventional safety practice by “being human-centered, i.e., seeking safety through a more aggressive use of vehicle or roadway design and operational changes rather than relying primarily on behavioral changes – and by fully integrating the needs of all users (pedestrians, bicyclists, older, younger, disabled, etc.) of the transportation system” (https://www.ite.org/technical-resources/topics/safe-systems/).
Literature shows that countries using the Safe System model have outpaced the United States in reducing traffic-related deaths. Some Safe System strategies are included in zero fatality efforts around the United States, such as multidisciplinary implementation to promote safer roads, vehicles, and road users and promote safety culture. Even with increased interest, little guidance exists for transportation planning, design, and operations; policy makers; public health practitioners; and law enforcement for implementing a Safe System. Decision-makers in the transportation community are faced with challenges to adoption and implementation of primary elements of Safe System, such as traditional design processes and legal constraints.
To be successful and adaptable to future changes, a Safe System approach must address not only infrastructure design but also such factors as vehicle design, policies and laws, recognition of shared safety responsibility, road user behavior, and public culture. For Safe System to be fully implemented, all of these factors need some degree of change. Research is needed to begin providing practical resources for transportation planners, designers, and operations managers to consult during problem identification, project development, and countermeasure selection.
The objectives of this research are the following:
1. Identify tools, practices, policies, and prioritization methods that can be tailored for supporting implementation of Safe System at both institutional and project levels.
2. Evaluate current Safe System approaches in anticipation of technological advances such as connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) and automated speed enforcement.
3. Identify and document Safe System (a) implementation gaps and challenges in the United States, (b) research needs, and (c) challenges and barriers and remedies thereto.
4. Develop practical, data-driven implementation guidelines for Safe System that (a) are scalable to transportation agencies of various sizes and maturities, and (b) consider various road contexts.
STATUS: Research in progress.