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Part II – The Five Key Components of Safe System Approach & The National Roadway Safety Strategy

In our last blog, we covered the new National Roadway Safety Strategy. It was recently unveiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Safe System Approach aimed at supporting this new initiative focuses on five key components. We’ll break down each component and explain what it means for everyone on the roads.

1)  Safer People

Objective: Encourage safe, responsible behavior by people who use our roads and create conditions that prioritize their ability to reach their destination unharmed.

According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, dangerous or “risky” behaviors contributed to nearly 25,000 roadway fatalities in the U.S. in 2019. These behaviors include driving while intoxicated/impaired, speeding, distracted driving, not wearing a seat belt, and driving while drowsy. In order to meet this objective, the NRSS recommends laws and devices designed to deter impaired driving, stricter enforcement of seat belt laws, and stronger traffic enforcement on dangerous driving behavior.

Additionally, the DOT pledges to use funding to get to the heart of alcohol and drug abuse/usage and to support new technology that prevents impaired driving while also improving the accuracy of driving records in order to keep dangerous drivers off the roads.

2)  Safer Roads

Objective: Design roadway environments to mitigate human mistakes and account for injury tolerances, to encourage safer behaviors, and to facilitate safe travel by the most vulnerable users.

The NRSS states that “safer roadways means incorporating design elements that offer layers of protection to prevent crashes from occurring and mitigate harm when they do occur.” This will involve the DOT focusing on “advancing infrastructure design and interventions that will significantly enhance roadway safety.” A key part of this initiative will be what is called Complete Streets policies, which would help transportation agencies across the country plan, develop, and operate roads, streets, and networks by prioritizing “safety, comfort, and connectivity to destinations for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, those who use wheelchairs and mobility devices, transit riders, micro-mobility users, shared-ride services, motorists, and freight delivery services.”

3)  Safer Vehicles

Objective: Expand the availability of vehicle systems and features that help to prevent

crashes and minimize the impact of crashes on both occupants and non-occupants.

The primary focus of this objective is utilizing and improving on the latest in vehicle safety technology. Airbags and seat belts help protect those inside a vehicle during a crash, but the NRSS is looking toward incorporating technology that helps prevent a crash from occurring in the first place, such as:

  • Automatic Emergency Braking, which automatically applies a vehicle’s brakes in time to avoid or minimize a forward crash with another vehicle.
  • Lane Departure Warning, which monitors lane markings and alerts drivers when their vehicle is drifting outside its lane.
  • Rear under-ride guards (as mentioned earlier) on tractor-trailers to prevent cars from being pinned under the trailer during a rear-end crash.
  • Alcohol detection and distracted driving detection systems that could help eliminate these risky behaviors that lead to so many accidents and deaths.
  • Advancements in transit buses that make them safer not only for passengers and drivers, but for anyone near them outside of the bus.

Additionally, the DOT is constantly monitoring and inspecting the safety of Automatic Driving Systems to ensure they are designed as safely as possible.

4)  Safer Speeds

Objective: Promote safer speeds in all roadway environments through a combination of thoughtful, context-appropriate roadway design, targeted education and outreach campaigns, and enforcement.

Ever heard the saying, “speed kills”? It’s true. According to the NHTSA, “speeding has played a role in more than a quarter of traffic deaths – killing nearly 100,000 people – over the past decade.” Through the Safe System Approach, safe speeds can be achieved through smarter road design, speed Roadway design can help to make roads and streets “self-enforcing” via lane width, intersection design, pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure, and other features, thereby encouraging drivers to move at safer speeds. Setting safer speed limits is a priority when it comes to reducing crashes and injury, “and methods for setting speed limits should be customized to the context of the roadway.” Automated speed enforcement, “if deployed equitably and applied appropriately to roads with the greatest risk of harm due to speeding,” can also go a long way toward saving lives.

5)  Post-Crash Care

Objective: Enhance the survivability of crashes through expedient access to emergency medical care, while creating a safe working environment for vital first responders and preventing secondary crashes through robust traffic incident management practices.

Accidents are going to happen (though hoping at a much lower frequency thanks to the NRSS)–the idea behind this whole policy, however, is to prevent fatalities and serious injuries…not necessarily prevent the accidents from occurring (though that is a component as well). The NRSS emphasizes that people’s responsibility does not end when a crash occurs and that the care for those who are injured is just as critical in preventing those injuries from becoming fatal. This takes into account the time it takes for emergency first responders to arrive at the crash location–time that can be the difference between life and death for the injured.


Ensuring the safety of emergency responders is a major component of this objective as well, as transportation incidents (such as flat tires and other mechanical issues, as well as crashes) at the scene are the second-leading cause of death for both police officers and firefighters and the leading cause of death for tow truck operators, according to EMS.gov and the CDC. Among the other DOT measures are on-scene safety and traffic incident training for emergency first responders, and advancing Traffic Incident Management training and technologies aimed at improved responder and motorist safety.

Final Thoughts on the National Roadway Safety Strategy?

The NRSS is certainly a commendable policy and a wise use of funding that will hopefully see some results over the next few years. While it may take a considerable amount of time until we get near the zero fatality goal of the U.S. Department of Transportation, it’s important to remember that even a slight reduction in traffic accidents results in many lives saved.

With all the above in mind, consider yourself and your loved ones if there is ever an accident that involves injuries.  Call The Lapidus Law Firm for legal representation, because we are committed to making justice work for you.

By Personal Injury Lawyer Larry Lapidus

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