A Safe System Guide for Transportation: Sharing this Approach to Lead Your Community to Action

This document presents recommendations for framing Safe System interventions to facilitate public acceptance and support.

November 2023

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Communities across the nation are turning to the Safe System approach to design transportation systems as a way to eventually reduce crash deaths and injuries to zero—the goal of Vision Zero programs. The Safe System approach uses thoughtful road and vehicle design to minimize the chance of a crash when people make mistakes and, when crashes do occur, to reduce crash forces so that people are less likely to be injured.

Recognizing the urgency for demonstrating progress in implementing the Safe System approach in the near term, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety partnered with Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina to develop pro-safety policy messaging and considerations for helping communities achieve success.

The purpose of this guide is to assist local decision makers, transportation professionals, and community advocates in effectively communicating about why the Safe System policies and engineering approaches are necessary, how they work, and how they benefit everyone who uses the roads. The proposed guide is intended for use by those implementing or advocating for Safe System improvements at the community level.


The research team examined literature on framing theory and framing effects for shaping public understanding of policies and examined why and under what conditions various policies secure public support when addressing complex social issues. Framing encourages a certain perspective on a topic by highlighting some aspects of it, ignoring others, or referencing the topic in a particular way.

To apply message framing to the implementation of the Safe System approach, the project team needed further insight on perceptions and attitudes toward road safety, and specific knowledge of Safe System interventions from community safety advocates who routinely communicate with community members about road safety.

The research team conducted nine focus groups. The first four focus groups were composed of AAA Inc. and AAA Club personnel and focused on perceptions of the level of Safe System knowledge and experience in the communities with whom they typically interact. The remaining five groups were composed of front-line community safety professionals. Some of the discussions with community safety professionals focused on reactions to short statements that related to the key Safe System attributes. Other discussions focused on reactions to combinations of the message points from the previous discussions. As a result, the team evaluated themes to describe the patterns observed across all focus groups.

Key Findings

Insights from the literature review and focus groups suggest that effective messaging revolves around three intertwined concepts: pro-social values, effective solutions, and practical actions. The research team developed the Values–Solutions–Action Framework for safety messaging, which offers recommendations on how to frame Safe System interventions to facilitate public acceptance and support.

The five themes identified from the focus groups on messaging to inform effective communication about Safe System strategies are as follows:

  1. Resonating values depend on personal experience and community needs
  2. Importance of showing the impact of the problems and the solutions
  3. Need for a shift from blame to positive behavior language
  4. Create a partnership between the values of individualism and shared responsibility
  5. Need to focus on what is practical to implement

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Jeffrey P. Michael

Theresa J. Chirles

Shannon Frattaroli

Seth LaJeunesse

Lucinda L. Austin

Alicia Romo

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Jessica McDonough

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

C. Y. David Yang

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety