Thursday, December 16, 2021

New GHSA Report Affirms Behavioral Aspect of Safe System Approach to Reaching Zero Traffic Deaths


December 15, 2021
CONTACT: Adam Snider, 202-580-7930
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New GHSA Report Affirms Behavioral Aspect of Safe System Approach to Reaching Zero Traffic Deaths
Report offers framework for states and partners to work together to achieve common goal of ending roadway violence
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) today released a new report that makes the case for the integral role of behavioral safety and road user responsibility in the Safe System approach to traffic safety and includes recommendations for how organizations and advocates can work together toward ending roadway deaths. This new report, developed for GHSA by Cambridge Systematics, comes ahead of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s anticipated release in January of a National Roadway Safety Strategy that will be rooted in the Safe System approach.

The Safe System approach envisions eliminating fatal and serious crashes for all road users by creating a transportation system that accommodates human mistakes and keeps crash impacts on the human body at survivable levels. It 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 - known as the “Swiss cheese model” - 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.

The GHSA report, Putting the Pieces Together: Addressing the Role of Behavioral Safety in the Safe System Approach, debunks the misconception held by some in the traffic safety community that infrastructure alone can end road deaths and that behavioral safety plays no role in keeping road users safe. The report stresses that it will take a comprehensive solution - including infrastructure improvements, changes to road design, equitable enforcement of traffic laws, education and public outreach, and emergency response - to reduce traffic crashes, injuries and deaths. 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.

“The United States is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to traffic safety. Everything that should be decreasing is increasing, and vice versa. A public safety crisis of this magnitude requires a concerted, coordinated effort that uses every safety tool at our disposal,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “The Safe System approach holds great promise in addressing the difficult task of ending roadway deaths, but only if we use all of its strategies. The traffic safety community needs to work together, not in silos, if we want to make progress on the road to zero traffic deaths.”

GHSA’s 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. The report was drafted with guidance and input from an expert panel of 21 representatives from SHSOs, government and private sector safety organizations, law enforcement and universities. The report’s findings will be discussed during a GHSA webinar on January 18, 2022, featuring representatives from the National Safety Council, AAA and Cambridge Systematics.

Safe System strategies can also be used as a tool for greater equity in areas that have been disproportionately exposed to traffic-related hazards, according to a 2021 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University. Making traffic safety programs and strategies more equitable is especially critical since Black, Indigenous and People of Color are disproportionately impacted by traffic crashes, as outlined in the report GHSA issued earlier this year, An Analysis of Traffic Fatalities by Race and Ethnicity.

After years of slowly declining fatality numbers, U.S. roadway deaths are rising again at an alarming rate. NHTSA estimates that more than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first half of 2021. That is 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.

At the 2021 GHSA Annual Meeting held in Denver in September, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy discussed the Safe System approach, which is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of safety improvements. Video of her remarks is available online.

GHSA will host a webinar on January 18, 2022, at 2 p.m. ET, to discuss the report’s findings with representatives from the National Safety Council, AAA and Cambridge Systematics. Register for the webinar here.

About GHSA
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Visit for more information or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.