The National Academies

NCHRP 08-171 [Pending]

Institutionalizing the Safe System Approach in Transportation Planning and Programming

  Project Data
Funds: $400,000
Contract Time: 24 months
Staff Responsibility: Dianne Schwager


The safety of all roadway users is the top priority of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), state departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and local transportation agencies throughout the United States. However, despite long-standing commitments to roadway safety, annual traffic fatalities (in particular, pedestrian fatalities) have increased during the past decade. 

The Safe System approach, initiated about 30 years ago as a global movement, has achieved significant safety improvements by adopters such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand. At the center of the Safe System approach is humans’ ability to tolerate crash force. 

The Safe System approach requires commitment and action by stakeholders (including planners, roadway system designers and managers, roadway users, law enforcement, and vehicle manufacturers) to build in redundancy that protects roadway users and reduces roadway fatalities and serious injuries. Commitment and collective action by stakeholders contributes to a positive safety culture.

The U.S. DOT in the National Roadway Safety Strategy promotes the Safe System approach and efforts are underway in a number of states to institutionalize the approach. Additional resources are needed to support the institutionalization of the Safe System approach in planning and programming.  


The objective of this research is to develop a practical toolkit for transportation and planning agencies that presents proven, innovative, and emerging strategies to institutionalize the Safe System approach throughout planning and programming processes. To ensure usefulness and practicality of the toolkit, the draft deliverables should engage a range of agency practitioners for review and comment. 


In addition to presenting specific strategies to institutionalize the Safe System approach throughout planning and programming processes, the toolkit should address:

  • Roadway users (including operators and passengers of various motorized and nonmotorized vehicles and pedestrians) who share responsibility for roadway safety, may make mistakes, and vary in their vulnerability, backgrounds, special needs, and abilities.
  • Strategies appropriate for urban, suburban, and rural areas, as appropriate.
  • Policies and practices that prioritize and reinforce the Safe System approach.
  • Key stakeholders required to support the Safe System approach and how their needs may be addressed.
  • Equity implications in transportation and safety planning.
  • Self-assessment tools to help agencies evaluate progress and establish priorities for implementing strategies consistent with the Safe System approach in the near- and longer-term.
  • Data and analysis methods needed to support decision-making for safety planning and programming.
  • Metrics for measuring outcomes of institutionalizing the Safe System approach in planning and programming.
  • Opportunities to maximize successful implementation.
  • Key barriers and challenges that should be anticipated.
  • Visualization tools such as sample infographics, flow charts, and other images to illustrate how agencies can institutionalize the Safe System approach.
  • Public-facing educational and outreach materials to obtain public buy-in by all roadway users. 


The research plan will describe appropriate deliverables that include the following (which also represent key project milestones):

  1. An amplified research plan that responds to comments provided by the project panel at the contractor selection meeting.
  2. An interim report and panel meeting. The interim report should include the analyses and results of completed tasks, an update of the remaining tasks, and a detailed outline of the final research product(s). The panel meeting will take place after the panel review of the interim report. The interim report and panel meeting should occur after the expenditure of no more than 40 percent of the project budget.
  3. Final deliverables that present the entire research product with an executive summary that will be useful to practitioners and stakeholders. 
  4. A technical memorandum titled “Implementation of Research Findings and Products”.
  5. A webinar that presents the research findings and conclusions.


STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP.  The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.


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