The systemic approach to safety involves widely implemented improvements based on high-risk roadway features correlated with specific severe crash types. The approach provides a more comprehensive method for safety planning and implementation that supplements and compliments traditional site analysis. It helps agencies broaden their traffic safety efforts and consider risk as well as crash history when identifying where to make low cost safety improvement locations.

A Way to Manage Risk

Highway safety improvement projects are designed to improve safety by minimizing or eliminating risk to roadway users. Rather than managing risk at certain locations, a systemic approach takes a broader view and looks at risk across an entire roadway system. A system-based approach acknowledges crashes alone are not always sufficient to determine what countermeasures to implement, particularly on low volume local and rural roadways where crash densities are lower, and in many urban areas particularly those where there are conflicts between vehicles and vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists).

Click here for a list of potential risk factors a state or local agency might consider with the systemic safety approach.

Systemic In Practice

Several states are using the systemic approach to safety and achieving results.  Click on the following noteworthy practices and case studies that illustrate these applications.


New York
Thurston County, WA

A feature on the FHWA Office of Safety Roadway Safety Noteworthy Practice Database allows you to add your own noteworthy practice. Click here to submit your practice. Click here to visit the database.

In the News

Systemic Safety an Innovation in EDC-3
Every Day Counts (EDC) is a state-based model to identify and rapidly deploy proven but underutilized innovations to shorten the project delivery process, enhance roadway safety, reduce congestion and improve environmental sustainability. EDC3 builds on previous efforts and is focusing on broadening implementation approaches and systemic approaches — into safety management processes and project development decision-making. Click here for more information.


The Systemic Safety Project Selection Tool

The Systemic Safety Project Selection Tool provides:

  • A step-by-step process for conducting systemic safety planning;
  • Considerations for determining a balance between spot and systemic safety improvements; and
  • Analytical techniques for quantifying the benefits of a systemic safety program.

Download the Systemic Safety Project Selection Tool