What is a Safe System Approach?

[1:52 PM] Weisberg, Timothy@OTS Graphic of Safe System approach principles to traffic safety - safe roads, safe speeds, safe vehicles, safe road users and post-crash care.

The Office of Traffic Safety embraces a Safe System approach, which focuses on both human mistakes and human vulnerability, and provides a framework to design a system to protect everyone. Safe roads, safe speeds, safe vehicles, safe road users and post-crash care all reinforce multiple layers of protection to protect everyone.

A Safe System approach incorporates the following principles:

  • Deaths and serious injuries are unacceptable – The Safe System approach prioritizes the elimination of crashes that result in death and serious injury. Vehicles are designed with systems and features that help to prevent crashes and minimize their impact when they do happen.
  • Humans make mistakes – People will inevitably make mistakes and decisions that may lead to crashes, but road design should accommodate mistakes to make crashes less severe or deadly when they do happen. Examples of safe roads include physically separating people traveling at different speeds, dedicated times for people to move through a space, and alerting people to hazards and other road users.
  •  Humans are vulnerable – Human bodies have physical limits for tolerating crash forces. Reduce speeds helps reduce the severity of injury and risk of death. Designing a system that accommodates these vulnerabilities, particularly for bicyclists and pedestrians, is critical, such as additional time for drivers to stop and improving visibility.
  • Responsibility is shared – The safety of all road users, including those who walk, bike, ride transit, or travel by modes other than a vehicle, is paramount. All strategies and voices should be heard, including all levels of government, non-profit and advocacy groups, researchers, engineers and the public. Everyone plays a role in preventing deaths and serious injuries on roads.
  • Safety is proactive – Safety concerns should be identified and addressed before crashes happen.
  • Redundancy is crucial – Reducing severe injury and deadly crashes requires all parts of the transportation system to be improved. If one part does not work, the other parts offer other layers of protection for people.

National Roadway Safety Strategy

The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) National Roadway Safety Strategy outlines a roadmap all levels of government should follow to significantly reduce serious injuries and deaths on highways, roads and streets throughout the country.

READ: U.S. DOT National Roadway Safety Strategy


Safe System Approach Social Media Toolkit (English)

Safe System Approach Social Media Toolkit (Spanish)

Federal Highway Administration Safe System Approach for a Safer Future

Federal Highway Administration: Integrating the Safe System Approach with the Highway Safety Improvement Program

U.S. DOT National Roadway Safety Strategy

Governors Highway Safety Association: Putting the Pieces Together: Addressing the Role of Behavioral Safety in the Safe System Approach


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