safe system approach graphic

Massachusetts has just released its 2023 Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP). The SHSP is a federally mandated plan for providing a comprehensive structure for reducing roadway fatalities and injuries on all public roadways. The SHSP is updated every five years, with the previous update having been completed in 2018. 

Unique to the 2023 SHSP is the utilization of Safe System. Safe System is a holistic approach emphasizing the need to anticipate human mistakes and reduce crash impact energy to tolerable levels. Because automated vehicles have the potential to account for some human error with regard to collision avoidance and driver distraction, they will likely play an enormous role in the future of roadway safety. 

Safe System is guided by six principles:

  • Death/Serious Injury is Unacceptable  
  • Humans Make Mistakes 
  • Humans Are Vulnerable  
  • Responsibility is Shared 
  • Safety is Proactive  
  • Redundancy is Crucial 

Using these guiding principles, a unified Safe System accounts for the following elements of a safe roadway: Safe Road Users, Safe Vehicles, Safe Speeds, Safe Roads, and Post‐Crash Care. Through an integrated approach encouraging collaboration across disciplines, Safe System recognizes that everyone has a role and responsibility to keep roadways safe and eliminate serious and fatal injuries, proactively accounting for human error in vehicle and roadway design, and putting redundant elements in place in case one safeguard fails. 

Bringing together 270 traffic safety stakeholders, the Safe System approach was used to generate over 400 safety initiative and programming ideas. Over the course of several follow-up meetings, these ideas were developed, prioritized and distilled into six core initiative, with 31 associated actions, which can be read about in the SHSP. 

The SHSP is supported by leadership from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) (23 U.S.C. § 148).