Integrating the Safe System Approach into California’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan
“We believe this ‘Pivot’ will save more lives. It will also empower California, leading us on the path to become a national leader in adopting the Safe System approach—which will ultimately lay the foundation for future safety initiatives.”
- Toks Omishakin
Former Director of the California Department of Transportation
CHALLENGE: Preliminary data from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) show that 3,866 people died in traffic crashes on California’s roadways in 2020, the highest number since 2008. This represents a 7.2 percent increase in fatalities from 2019, despite a 14.9 percent decrease in vehicle miles traveled due to the pandemic. Recognizing the need for change to combat increasing fatalities, transportation leaders in California authored a bold and transformative update to the State’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) in 2020 called “The Pivot.”
ACTION: “The Pivot” adopted four guiding principles that support the SHSP, including implementing a Safe System Approach as well as integrating equity, doubling down on what works, and accelerating the use of advanced technology.
The Safe System Approach aims to eliminate fatal and serious injuries for all road users through a holistic view of the roadway system. The SHSP embraces the six principles of the Safe System Approach, which are Death/Serious Injury is Unacceptable, Humans Make Mistakes, Humans Are Vulnerable, Responsibility is Shared, Safety is Proactive, and Redundancy is Crucial. The Safe System Approach places additional responsibility on agencies to account for human error within the design and operation of roadways. Caltrans’ implementation of the Safe System Approach included elevating and institutionalizing a safety culture. This included changing the way they talk about traffic safety to emphasize that there are identifiable reasons for crashes and that most are preventable. Caltrans understands that they can accommodate users’ mistakes by changing the design and operations of the road system. For example, roads can be designed to be self-enforcing so that drivers instinctively drive at vehicle speeds that make the roads safer for all users.
The SHSP update also expanded and diversified membership of the SHSP committee, designated high-priority challenge areas (Lane Departure, Impaired Driving, Aggressive Driving/Speed Management, Pedestrians and Bicyclists, and Intersections), sought to increase the effectiveness of the program with innovative tools and data, and evaluated progress on a continual basis.
RESULT: Caltrans’ SHSP update has created processes that will allow swift identification of problems and rapid deployment of resources to save lives. Using the Safe System Approach as a guiding principle, Caltrans is demonstrating its belief that everyone has the right to travel safely on California’s public roads. While California is just starting to apply the Safe System Approach and much work needs to be done, strong leadership is promising to make this pivot meaningful. Toks Omishakin, Director of the California Department of Transportation, is a long-time champion for ’The Pivot’ and under his direction, Caltrans established a new Chief Safety Officer role to oversee all safety within Caltrans. This new role has been key in championing the guiding principles for the SHSP update. As a testament to Caltrans’ intensive 15-month collaborative effort to update its SHSP with a focus on the Safe System Approach and equity, Caltrans was a recipient of a 2021 National Roadway Safety Award.
Read the Caltrans SHSP.
Learn more about the Safety System Approach.
Learn more about the 2021 National Roadway Safety Awards.
Each month we highlight partners that have prioritized roadway safety by implementing different safety countermeasures. To learn about specific safety countermeasures in general, click on the links below.
|Sep ‘22:||Safe System|
|Oct ‘22:||Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety|
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For more information, or to learn how to be a partner for safety, please contact:
Norah M. Ocel, P.E.
RSPCB Program Point of Contact
Felix Delgado, FHWA Office of Safety
FHWA Office of Safety
Staff and Primary Work Responsibilities
FHWA Office of Safety
Safety and Design Team
FHWA Resource Center