A new report by Cambridge Systematics and developed for the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) stresses the importance of behavioral safety and road user responsibility in the Safe System approach to traffic safety and offers a framework for states and partners to work together to end roadway fatalities.
This comprehensive Safe System approach has been highly effective in other countries, with traffic fatalities falling in Sweden, where the approach originated, by 67% between 1990 and 2017.
Experts say the Safe System approach holds great promise for the U.S., too, but only if we use all of its strategies and elements.
The goal is to create a transportation system that accommodates human mistakes and keeps crash impacts on the human body at survivable levels. The Safe System is based on five key elements that, together, are designed to provide a systematic approach to traffic safety: safe road users, safe vehicles, safe speeds, safe roads, and post-crash care.
The redundancy offered by these multiple layers of protection is the central tenet of the Safe System approach. If one layer fails, the others will provide a protective effect and lessen the likelihood of a serious or fatal injury in the event of a crash.
Titled Putting the Pieces Together: Addressing the Role of Behavioral Safety in the Safe System Approach, the report banishes what GHSA calls a misconception held by some safety advocates that infrastructure alone can end road deaths and that behavioral safety plays no role in keeping road users safe.
Rather, the report endorses a comprehensive solution — including infrastructure improvements, changes to road design, equitable enforcement of traffic laws, education and public outreach, and emergency response — to curb traffic crashes, injuries, and deaths.
Noteworthy, the report features a new Behavioral Safety Safe System Framework to help states identify how to integrate Safe System elements into State Highway Safety Office (SHSO) programs and operations. It also provides actionable recommendations for SHSOs, GHSA, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to help promote implementation of Safe System strategies and behavioral safety’s role in that effort.
Finally, Safe System strategies can also be used as a tool for greater equity in areas that have been disproportionately exposed to traffic-related hazards — critically important since Black, Indigenous and People of Color are disproportionately impacted by traffic crashes.
Roadway collisions continue to climb. More than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first half of 2021, according to NHTSA. That’s 18.4% higher than the same period in 2020 and the largest six-month increase in highway fatalities in the 46-year history of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.