The National Academies

NCHRP 17-125 [Pending]

Guide for Applying Safe System Principles in the Road Safety Audit Process

  Project Data
Funds: $425,000
Contract Time: 27 Months
Staff Responsibility: Anne-Marie Turner


With the United States beginning to engage in the Safe System Approach (SSA) to road safety, opportunities exist to update current tools. A road safety audit (RSA), known as a road safety assessment in some agencies, is one such tool. The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Road Safety Audit Guidelines defines an RSA as a formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent, multidisciplinary audit team. FHWA provides guidelines for RSAs throughout the project life cycle, and RSAs of existing roads (also referred to as road safety inspections) are commonly used in jurisdictions of all levels. However, in the United States, RSAs are less frequently used to evaluate projects in the project planning and design phases.

RSAs typically begin earlier in the planning and project development processes in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand as a proactive approach to roadway safety. In Guide to Road Safety Part 6: Road Safety Audit, Austroads defines an RSA as a formal examination of a future road or traffic project or an existing road or road-related area, in which an independent, qualified team reports on the project’s crash potential and actual safety performance, respectively. Austroads considers RSAs conducted early in the project development process to be the most cost-effective because safety features can be incorporated before construction.

RSAs are well suited to incorporating SSA principles, as proven by international examples of RSA guides with safe system elements. In the United States, updated RSA processes have the potential to raise awareness of safe system concepts and provide practitioners with direction on how to apply the SSA. In addition, transportation agencies can benefit from adapting international best practices for RSAs and road safety inspections. 

Research is needed to support state departments of transportation with incorporating the SSA into RSA processes and implementing RSAs during project planning and development.

The objective of this research is to develop a guide with a framework and tools to help transportation agencies integrate safe system principles into RSA processes throughout the project life cycle with an emphasis on implementing RSAs throughout the planning and project development phases.

Accomplishment of the project objective will require at least the following tasks.


PHASE I – Planning for Guide Development

Task 1. Conduct a literature review of relevant research considered to be the state-of-the-practice related to RSAs and SSA and their implementation throughout the project life cycle. The review shall include published and unpublished research conducted through the NCHRP and FHWA and other national, international, state, and pooled-fund sponsored research.

Task 2. Conduct a critical analysis and synthesis of the results of the literature review and identify knowledge gaps and opportunities for enhancing the RSA process as related to the project objective. These gaps must be addressed in the final deliverables as the budget allows or as the recommended future research. 

Task 3. Develop a methodology to achieve the project objective to be developed in Phase II. At a minimum, the methodology shall formulate strategies to

  • Identify data collection needs and methodologies that gather information on perspectives, best practices, and policies at all levels, including local, regional, state, and international levels;
  • Develop frameworks as part of the RSA processes that address items such as but not limited to
    • human factors,
    • equity,
    • designing for all users,
    • focusing on fatal and serious injury crashes,
    • building an RSA team with wide expertise,
    • strategies for raising awareness;
  • Identify project and partner agency options for pilot(s) RSA to be conducted in Phase III; and
  • Develop the guide.

Task 4. Draft a detailed annotated outline for the guide.

Task 5. Prepare Interim Report 1 and panel meeting. Interim Report 1 must include the analyses, results of completed tasks, the annotated outline, and an updated work plan for the remainder of the project. 


PHASE II – Guide Development 

Task 6. Execute the approved methodology in Interim Report 1. Summarize the findings from executing the methodology.

Task 7. Develop a work plan for pilot tests with agencies selected in Task 6.

Task 8. Draft the guide according to the approved Task 5.

Task 9. Prepare Interim Report 2 documenting Tasks 6 through 8. 


PHASE III – Pilot Tests and Deliverables

Task 10. Execute at least two pilot tests, conducted by partner agencies using the draft guide of the proposed RSA process, including documentation of the RSA processes and technical recommendations. Meetings with partner agencies may be virtual. Prepare a technical memorandum with a summary of the successes and shortcomings of proposed the RSA process in the pilot tests and any proposed updates to the draft guide.

Task 11. Prepare final deliverables that present the entire research product. The final deliverables must include

  • The final guide;
  • A conduct of research report, including an executive summary, that documents all research and project efforts;
  • A PowerPoint presentation with speaker notes that summarizes the project and distinctly illustrates for the audience how the research can be applied in their organization; and
  • A technical memorandum titled “Implementation of Research Findings and Products”.


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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