Defining Safe Systems: A Review of the state-of-the-Practice and Leadership Summit

The concept of a “safe systems approach” to traffic safety has been widely embraced by transportation professionals in the United States and beyond, though there remains little clear consensus on what is meant by a “safe systems approach,” nor how such an approach is to be meaningfully implemented. This effort will entail a review of the literature on "safe systems" to develop a single, working definition of the concept. This will be accomplished through two activities. The first is a comprehensive review of the literature on "safe systems," as well as the related literature on “safety-conscious planning” and “vision zero.” The review will specifically seek to answer the following questions: (1) What is meant by a “safe systems approach,” and how does it differ from conventional safety practices, if at all? (2) Does the concept of “safe systems” differ across professional boundaries, such as traffic engineering, planning, law enforcement, or public health? If so, how? (3) What are the shared themes or concepts in the different professional disciplines covered under the “concept of safe systems?” Is so, what are they? (4) Is there an interdisciplinary model for the development and execution of safe systems that may be applied to better reduce the incidence of traffic-related deaths and injuries? If not, does the literature suggest a model that might be adopted? The second activity will entail a safe systems summit, which is tentatively scheduled to occur in early 2018, which will bring together leaders in traffic safety-related disciplines to achieve the three following ends: to share knowledge on the development of a safe systems approach to traffic safety; to develop a shared understanding of safe systems that may be shared across disciplines; and to provide the foundation for a book-length manuscript that will serve as a guide for future scholars and professionals seeking to advance safe systems. This manuscript will serve as a product of the Center’s forthcoming activities. The outcomes of the effort will entail a literature review; a Safe Systems Summit, and; published proceedings or a book manuscript detailing the results of the Summit.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $77,346
  • Contract Numbers:


  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    University Transportation Centers Program
    Department of Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Managing Organizations:

    Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety

    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    Chapel Hill, NC  United States  27514
  • Project Managers:

    Sandt, Laura

  • Performing Organizations:

    Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton

    Boca Raton, FL  United States  33431

    University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center

    730 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard CB # 3430
    Chapel Hill, NC  United States  27599-3430
  • Principal Investigators:

    Dumbaugh, Eric

    Kumfer, Wesley

  • Start Date: 20170301
  • Expected Completion Date: 20190131
  • Actual Completion Date: 0
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01627992
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety
  • Contract Numbers: 69A3551747113
  • Files: UTC, RiP
  • Created Date: Feb 27 2017 12:52PM