2017 Research Project

Defining Safe Systems: A Review of the State-of-the-Practice and Leadership Summit

Principal Investigator 
Eric Dumbaugh
Florida Atlantic University
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Wes Kumfer
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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The concept of a safe systems approach to traffic safety has been widely embraced by transportation professionals in the United States and beyond, though there remains little clear consensus on what is meant by a safe systems approach, nor how such an approach is to be meaningfully implemented. This effort will entail a review of the literature on safe systems to develop a single, working definition of the concept. This will be accomplished through two activities.

The first is a comprehensive review of the literature on safe systems, as well as the related literature on safety-conscious planning and vision zero. The review will specifically seek to answer the following questions:

  • What is meant by a safe systems approach, and how does it differ from conventional safety practices, if at all?
  • Does the concept of safe systems differ across professional boundaries, such as traffic engineering, planning, law enforcement, or public health? If so, how?
  • Are there shared themes or concepts in the different professional disciplines covered under the concept of safe systems? If so, what are they?
  • Is there an interdisciplinary model for the development and execution of safe systems that may be applied to better reduce the incidence of traffic-related deaths and injuries? If not, does the literature suggest a model that might be adopted?

The second activity will entail a safe systems summit, tentatively scheduled to occur in early 2018 and will bring together leaders in traffic safety-related disciplines to achieve the three following ends:

  • To share knowledge on the development of a safe systems approach to traffic safety.
  • To develop a shared understanding of safe systems that may be shared across disciplines.
  • To provide the foundation for a book-length manuscript that will serve as a guide for future scholars and professionals seeking to advance safe systems. This manuscript will serve as a product of the Center’s forthcoming activities.

The outcomes of the effort will entail a literature review, a safe systems summit, and published proceedings or a book manuscript detailing the results of the summit.

Project Details

Project Type: Research
Project Status: Active
Start Date: 3-1-2017
End Date: 10-31-2018
Contract Year: Year 1
Total Funding from CSCRS: $77,346
Co-sponsors: MacArthur Foundation Endowment
Collaborating Organizations: Florida Atlantic University; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill