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. For more details, select one of the states below:


The following case studies illustrate various applications of the Systemic Safety Project Selection Tool:

New York
Thurston County, Washington

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

TRB Workshop: Applications of Systemic Approaches to Safety

Sunday, January 12th 1:30 – 4:30 PM

This workshop is designed for safety program managers and professionals at the state and local levels. It provides an update on the process, tools, and applications supporting the systemic safety approach. The discussion will focus on the application of the methodology, benefits, and challenges experienced by those using systemic applications. The need for additional research and outreach will also be discussed to encourage more widespread implementation.

Systemic Safety Project Selection Tool **Now Available**

Download the Systemic Safety Project Selection Tool

Check out the following article in the May/June 2013 edition of Public Roads:

Using Risk to Drive Safety Investments
by Howard Preston, Richard Storm, Karen Scurry, and Elizabeth Wemple

Applying a systemic approach can help States get the biggest bang for their buck in reducing crashes.

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