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Rural Health Information Hub

Safe System Approach to Prevent Traffic Accidents

Experts in rural road safety highlight the Safe System approach as an effective strategy to improve safety and reduce injury. The Safe System approach focuses on:

  • Safety for all road users, including those who drive, walk, bike, and ride other forms of transportation
  • Safe vehicles that can lessen the impact of crashes on passengers
  • Safe speeds and a focus on lowering speeds to minimize impact during collisions
  • Safe roads that lower chances of injury and death when crashes occur
  • Post-crash care that includes quick response and transport to hospitals

The Safe System approach highlights how combining several traffic calming measures, such as lowering speed limits, and infrastructure changes like improving lighting, road markings, and applying road surface treatments, could prevent many motor vehicle crashes. It also emphasizes the need for communities to adopt a positive traffic safety culture, which is “the shared belief system of a group of people, which influences road user behaviors and stakeholder actions that impact traffic safety.”

For more information about these types of strategies for improving transportation safety, please see the Road Safety Models in the Rural Transportation Toolkit. The National Center for Rural Road Safety also offers helpful resources and technical assistance in designing road systems that support safety and prevent injuries.

Examples of the Safe System Approach

  • North Carolina's Vision Zero Initiative has adopted the broader Vision Zero policy to implement across the state in rural areas. The goal of the program is to prevent all deaths and injuries on roads. The program uses the holistic Safe System approach focusing on input and collaboration by engineers, educators, emergency responders, law enforcement, and all community members. North Carolina's Vision Zero works to address all factors that can lead to a crash, including several key safety areas such as improving seat belt use, reducing speeding, reducing distracted and impaired driving, improving pedestrian safety, and many others.
  • The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is implementing a Safe System approach with the goal of zero deaths and serious injuries on Michigan roads. Michigan has also adopted the safety-campaign Toward Zero Deaths, which works to develop a culture of safety, one important element of the Safe System approach.

Implementation Considerations

The Safe System approach is a broad, holistic strategy for preventing injuries and deaths on roads that should involve a variety of community-members and requires buy-in and leadership on all levels. Implementation considerations will vary depending on whether communities are focusing on traffic calming measures, infrastructure updates, or other elements of adopting a traffic safety culture.

Resources to Learn More

Demystifying the Safe System Approach
Introduces key features of the Safe System approach, a design methodology promoting safer streets and safer speeds to prevent traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Offers examples demonstrating the impact of this approach on street design and speed management.
Organization(s): Vision Zero Network

Highway Safety Behavioral Strategies for Rural Areas
Provides an overview of the risk factors of rural roads and strategies for rural road safety. Includes case studies from rural communities.
Organization(s): Transportation Research Board
Date: 2023

Highway Safety Behavioral Strategies for Rural and Tribal Areas: A Guide
Supports the Safe System approach to address rural road fatalities and serious injuries. Provides guidance on selecting and implementing behavioral and engineering approaches to improve road safety.
Organization(s): Transportation Research Board
Date: 2023

The Safe System Approach for Rural Roads
Highlights key factors that influence the development of the Safe System approach for protecting users of rural roads. Provides links to a series of webinars describing the approach and various elements.
Organization(s): National Center for Rural Road Safety