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Florida is adopting Safe System Approach to improve safety, reduce traffic deaths and severe injuries

Car on the side of the road with debris on the grass after a crash
Florida Highway Patrol
Debris is strewn along the side of the Selmon Expressway in Hillsborough County following a crash on Sept. 19, 2023.

Pei-Sung Lin of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at USF, says this approach has reduced traffic fatalities by 50% in one generation in countries like Spain and Sweden.

Traffic fatalities in Florida over the past few years have been highest in Miami-Dade County, Broward, Hillsborough, and Orange counties.

Three main scenarios have proven deadly in Hillsborough County: Cars going off the roads, crashes involving pedestrian, and bike riders and crashes at intersections.

Pei-Sung Lin, of The Center for Urban Transportation Research at USF,said Florida is altering the way it thinks of traffic in changing to the Safe System Approach. It has filtered down through the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Lin said there are five components of a safe transportation system and these must all work together:

  1. Safe vehicles
  2. Safe speeds
  3. Safe roads
  4. Safe road users
  5. Post-crash care

But the main thrust of this approach is that death or serious injury are unacceptable.

A man with glasses and a dark suit stands in front of a camera.
Dr. Pei-Sung Lin with Center for Urban Transportation Research at USF.

He said it's quite different from the traditional approach, and has proven successful in Spain, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand.

"But now the emphasis is, if there are more crashes, especially, more minor crashes, it's OK," Lin said.

Lin said we have "kind of plateaued" with very little variation in the number of crashes and the resulting injuries or deaths.

That's the same thing these other countries experienced. Then they adopted this Safe System Approach, and within 25 years, they saw a 50% decline in traffic fatalities.

Lin said more than 90% of crashes are attributable to human failures or behaviors because, he said, "humans make mistakes."

For example: Speeding. And, Lin said, "When the speed is high ... serious injury and fatality are likely to occur."

To cut back on speeding, traffic engineers put in more roundabouts.

Love them or hate them, they do make drivers slow down, according to Lin.

And for bike riders and pedestrians, a crash at 15 miles per hour, instead of one at 45, may be one they can survive.

Another tenet of this Safe System Approach is that safety is proactive.

Unlike in the past where "we may have tried to analyze this location with a lot of conflicts, or near misses, even if no fatalities have occurred, we need to take proper actions before it occurs," Lin said.

Also, he said redundancy is crucial.

What that means is safe people, safe roads and the latter can be accomplished by providing "clearer signage, pavement markings, regular pavement friction, clear traffic control devices ... that also will contribute to protection of our users," he said.

Lin said safer cars will have a lane-keeping function, and adaptive cruise control to maintain a safe distance between your car and the one in front of you.

Lin said most pedestrians don't push the button to activate crosswalks. Only about 25% of people do. So now engineers are designing systems that will "push the button for them," signaling for traffic to stop.

Emblem for the Safe System Approach
Emblem for Safe System Approach

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