Safe System Approach

The safe system approach is a human-centered way of designing the transportation system that differs from the traditional approach of years past. It builds layers of safety into the system for all travelers to reduce severity of crashes.

Safe System Approach: Core Principles

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the six principles of the safe system approach are:

  • Death and serious injuries are unacceptable. The foundation of the safe system approach is the belief and conviction that no one should die on our roads.
  • Humans make mistakes. The transportation system should be designed to accommodate human mistakes. No mistake should be fatal.
  • Humans are vulnerable. Designs should acknowledge human vulnerabilities.
  • Responsibility is shared. We all have a part to play in reducing and preventing crashes.
  • Safety is proactive. We shouldn’t wait until crashes happen to act and mitigate risks.
  • Redundancy is crucial. We should build safety nets into the transportation system so that if one part fails, the other parts still protect people.

Layers of Protection: Safe System Elements

To reduce deaths and serious injuries, these elements must all work together:

  • Safer people. Designs should consider everyone who uses the road, whether they are walking, biking, riding transit, or driving. We should also encourage individuals to act responsibly.
  • Safer vehicles. Vehicles should be designed to minimize crashes and how severe crashes are when they do occur.
  • Safer speeds. Reducing speeds can save lives. High-speed crashes are often fatal. Speed should match design and the surrounding environment.
  • Safer roads. Road design should account for human mistakes.
  • Post-crash care. Quick access to emergency care can make the difference between life and death. Clearing the crash scene quickly can help prevent secondary crashes.

To learn more, read the USDOT’s Safe System Brochure here.


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