More than 50 years ago, the Highway Safety Act of 1970 confirmed the commitment of the U.S. Government to work to protect the traveling public’s safety on the road. NHTSA estimates that since 1960, improved vehicle safety technologies alone have saved more than 600,000 people. Unfortunately, the Nation continues to lose too many family members, friends, and neighbors to traffic crashes. In 2020, the United States lost more than 38,000 people to traffic crashes.
“We must address the tragic loss of life we saw on the roads in 2020 by taking a transformational and collaborative approach to safety. Everyone—including those who design, operate, build, and use the road system—shares responsibility for road safety, This is the foundation of the safe system approach, and one that guides our lifesaving work at NHTSA,” says Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s deputy administrator.
The Safe System Approach is a data-driven, holistic, and equitable method to roadway safety that fully integrates the needs of all users, anticipates the possibility of errors by drivers and other road users, and manages crash impact forces to levels tolerated by the human body. The Safe System Approach includes five elements: safe road users, safe vehicles, safe speeds, safe roads, and post-crash care. The approach incorporates the 5 Es of traffic safety—equity, engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency medical services (EMS)—but goes beyond the traditional approach to enlist designers, operators, and users of the transportation system to prevent fatal crashes and reduce crash severity. NHTSA’s efforts focus on safe road users, safe vehicles, safe speeds, and post-crash care.
The Safe System Approach broadens NHTSA’s scope with the tenets that safety is proactive and responsibility is shared. It challenges everyone involved to not accept fatalities and serious injuries as a consequence of mobility. Instead, the approach is founded in the conviction that no one should be killed or seriously injured while using the roadway system. It recognizes that people make mistakes, and those who oversee, design, and regulate the components of the transportation system have a responsibility to develop a system that accommodates mistakes. In the case where a crash cannot be prevented, the energy that dictates the injury severity, when possible, should be mitigated to improve survivability outcomes. A Safe System provides equitable, timely, and appropriate care.
Historically, NHTSA has always used a data-driven systems approach to crashes, related causal factors, and candidate countermeasures. NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA) supports data-driven decisions through the collection and analysis of data and the dissemination of information to quickly identify potential problems and support data-driven safety decisions. In addition to its own data sources, NCSA uses data from other governmental agencies, as well as crash files from States, to support analytical activities. NCSA also regularly publishes a variety of research notes, crash statistics, traffic safety fact sheets, and reports that provide information on crashes at the national and State levels (for more information, please see www.nhtsa.gov/data)