Safe Systems in the U.S. - Developing a Roadmap for Transportation Road Designers, Planners, and Engineers

The proposed research is focused on providing data driven support to the transportation engineering, design, and planning communities to ensure all road user mistakes encounter “error tolerance” on the roadways and do not result in serious injury or death. The research will identify tools, countermeasures, model policies, methods, etc., for beginning and accelerating implementation of a Safe Systems approach tailored to the U.S. environment for smaller and larger transportation agencies. At the same time, it will be forward thinking when evaluating current approaches in anticipation of technological advances, such as connected and autonomous vehicles, and the use of automated speed enforcement. In addition, it will identify and document implementation challenges inherent in the transportation safety culture and practice, but also seek remedies to overcome the challenges and barriers. To achieve the goal of zero deaths and serious injuries in the United States, agencies will need to modify their processes for identifying, developing and completing roadway projects. This research supports the AASHTO Strategic Plan for the Committee on Safety Goal 1, Strategy 1.1, “Lead in the Implementation of Toward Zero Deaths: A National Strategy on Highway Safety. In an ideal world, any project concept would include elements related to context, evaluation of operations, safety, human factors, and public health as part of a safe transportation system. Each iteration of the project from planning through final design, and operation would depend on this multiple lens approach. The following Safe Systems approach questions will be investigated: (1) What is a Safe Systems approach in the context of developing a transportation project and how does it differ from the current project development process? (2) What Safe Systems countries (e.g. Sweden, Norway, and Australia) use in terms of plans and planning processes, guidelines and policy constraints on roadway designers and operators, approaches to design standards, and how can they be mapped to current U.S. standards? (3) How can the U.S. planning process more effectively implement a Safe Systems approach, and how adaptable it will be to future technologies (e,g. autonomous/connected vehicles, transportation-as-a-service, or micromobility)? (4) What are the differences in various contexts (e.g. urban core, general urban, suburban, rural, etc.)? (5) What tools (major design guides, NACTO, guidelines, context sensitive solutions, human factors, PIARC Road Safety Manual) exists today for a Safe Systems approach in the U.S., what are the gaps, and what tools are needed in the various processes including concept, planning, data, analysis, design, and construction? (6) How do the Human Factors, Safety Culture, and Public Health sectors fit in the Safe Systems approach? (7) What public agency policies may need to be changed and what legal challenges exist? (8) What are the research needs associated with a transition? (9) What is the effect of a Safe Systems approach on freight transit and economic development? (10) What role does mass public transit plays in a Safe Systems approach? The tension to operationalize Safe Systems approaches for use in the project delivery and operational processes for all projects, as well as safety countermeasure application specifically is heightened by the undisputed and alarming increase in traffic related fatalities over the past several years. Indeed, after years of decreases the number of deaths has risen from 32,744 in 2014 to 37,133 in 2017 (NHTSA, 2019). Even though the increasing trend appears to be leveling off or reducing slightly over the past couple of years, 37,133 deaths and many times more serious injuries, is a national tragedy. It’s largely predictable and preventable; hence, transportation policies and practices should be aggressively updated to adopt proven effective strategies. Accomplishing the objectives of this research will benefit not only the state DOTs but also the entire population. This problem statement has been rated second priority (of 5) by the AASHTO Committee on Safety. The Federal and State DOTs will benefit broadly from the research results, e.g., planners, design and traffic engineers, maintenance and construction departments, and especially management and leadership. Implementation leadership will be critical, but the day-to-day implementation tasks are likely to be assigned to planners and design and traffic engineers. At a minimum, implementation of this study will produce broad recommendations on next steps including future research and data needs, outreach materials for widespread publication and presentation of results for transportation professionals, alternative pathway projections based on potential investment, and reasonable time-based goals and performance measures for successful implementation (i.e., percent fatality reduction, percent infrastructure updated, etc.) All of these results would be immediately implementable in terms of taking the initial steps toward full implementation. It might be useful to produce a “how to” manual with explicit instructions for implementation. Often, this type of document can be developed into a workshop which could be pilot tested and used by the DOTs to train current and future employees. In addition, once implementation is underway, “early adopters” could be teamed with other states through peer exchanges.


  • English


  • Status: Proposed
  • Funding: $450000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 17-101

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Jared, David

  • Start Date: 20210324
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01767981
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 17-101
  • Files: TRB, RIP
  • Created Date: Mar 22 2021 3:13PM