At the heart of the Towards Zero vision is the belief that no one should be killed or seriously injured from using the road network. The aim of Towards Zero is for a world free from road fatalities and serious injuries and the vision is underpinned by the Safe System approach to road safety.
The Safe System (otherwise known as Vision Zero, Towards Zero or Sustainable Safety) views human life and health as paramount to all else and should be the first and foremost consideration when designing a road network.
The principles underpinning the Safe System acknowledge that:
People make mistakes which can lead to crashes; however, no one should die or be seriously injured on the road as a result of these mistakes.
The human body has a limited physical ability to tolerate crash forces – any impact greater than 30km/h increases the risk of dying significantly.
Road safety is a shared responsibility amongst everyone, including those that design, build, operate and use the road system.
All parts of the road system must be strengthened in combination to multiply the protective effects and if one part fails, the others will still protect people.
At the centre of the system is people – people that are fragile and will at times make mistakes that can lead to crashes. With that understanding, the road system needs to put layers of protection in the form of safe roads, vehicles, speeds, people around the fallible and vulnerable human in order to prevent deaths and serious injuries.
Figure 1 – The Safe System Approach to Road Safety
PRINCIPLE 1: HUMAN FALLIBILITY
People make mistakes which can lead to crashes
People by nature will make mistakes. When these mistakes occur on the road, they can lead to crashes. Even when people are not deliberately taking risks, they can still make mistakes that can result in a crash. As people are fallible, road trauma cannot be eradicated just by improving road user behaviour. With many millions of drivers in the world, expecting everyone to not make a single mistake that can lead to crashes every time they use the road system is not realistic so a safe road system needs to be able to accommodate and account for people making mistakes.
PRINCIPLE 2: HUMAN VULNERABILITY
The human body has a limited physical ability to tolerate crash forces
The human body is vulnerable not built to withstand impact forces greater than 30km/h – any impact greater than 30km/h greatly increases the risk of dying. In the road environment, unprotected road users such as pedestrians are most at risk of sustaining injury in the event of a crash. While a vehicle can help reduce or absorb some of the crash forces generated in a crash and help protect the occupant, the impact speed for different crash types, before the risk of death significantly, is still not as high as people may think and is not compatible with many of the speed limits set around the world. To build a safe road system and to reduce deaths and serious injuries, the human body’s tolerance to impact forces should be used as a guiding tool.
Figure 2 –Impact speeds for different crash types after which the risk of death escalates
Road Safety is a shared responsibility
Traditionally, the responsibility for staying safe on the road fell on individual road users. However, under the Safe System approach, road safety is a shared responsibility amongst everyone, including those that design, build, operate and use the road system. Everyone has a part to play in keeping ourselves and each other safe on the roads.
Building a safe and forgiving road system
To help build a safe road system that is forgiving of mistakes, investment needs to made in the creation of Safe Roads, Safe Speeds, Safe Vehicles, Safe People and Post Crash Care to put layers of protection around people to keep them safe from death and serious injuries on the road. All parts of the road system must be strengthened in combination to multiply the protective effects and if one part of the system fails, the other parts will still protect people.
Each year, more that 1.2 million people are killed and millions more seriously injured in road crashes worldwide2. To reduce the global burden of road traffic injuries, the United Nations (UN) Global Goals for Sustainable Development have set the ambitious goal of reducing road fatalities and serious injuries by 50% by the end of the current UN Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020). The Global Goals represents the UN’s strongest ever mandate for action to promote road safety and provides new urgency in the implementation of of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action
To achieve the UN’s ambitious goals, a new way of thinking and new strategies for road injury prevention are needed. The starting point for a new approach is the recognition that road deaths are unacceptable and can be avoided if effective injury prevention strategies are adopted worldwide1. The experience of countries that have achieved the greatest reductions in road fatalities have shown that the most effective strategies are those which anticipate the likelihood of human error so that crashes don’t result in loss of life or health. This ‘forgiving’ or Safe System approach recognizes that whilst mistakes are inevitable, deaths and serious injuries from road crashes are not.
The Safe System approach to road safety challenges the traditional thinking and understanding of how to address road trauma, looking at how the elements that the road transport system is comprised of can work together to protect people from being killed or seriously injured.
The key differences between the traditional and Safe System approaches have been summarised in Figure 2:
Figure 2 – Traditional Approach to Road Safety vs. Safe System Approach to Road Safety2
Roads and road features play a vital role in reducing crashes and/or the injury outcomes in the event of a crash. Improved infrastructure provides solid and well understood crash and injury reduction outcomes and are critical for long term and sustainable trauma reduction.
Some examples of road features that can help reduce deaths and serious injuries include:
ROUNDABOUTS – Roundabouts can slow down vehicles so when a crash does occur, the speed will be lower and the crash angle will result in less severe injuries compared to a right angle crash at an intersection.
BARRIERS – Barriers can help prevent crashes which can result in very severe injuries or death, namely run off road and head on crashes. Barriers placed on the side of roads can prevent vehicles from running off the road and into trees and poles and when placed in the centre of the road, barriers can prevent head on crashes.
Safe vehicles play an important role in reducing road trauma. Vehicles that are designed well with the appropriate safety technologies can either prevent a crash or reduce or absorb some of the crash forces to help decrease the risk of death and serious injuries. Not all cars are created equal and some are safer than others, but if every vehicle can be upgraded to the safest in its class, road trauma could be reduced by a third3.
To build a safe road system, speed limits should be set appropriately, guided by the knowledge of the human body’s tolerance to external forces and also ensuring compliance with the set limits. Appropriate speed limit setting and compliance can also enhance the effectiveness of initiatives implemented in the road or vehicle space.
A number of countries such as the UK and Sweden have applied 30km/h speed zones in high pedestrian areas so if a crash was to occur, a person would have a much higher chance of survival.
Not withstanding that people will make mistakes at times, having safe road users is still an important part of a safe road system, especially in the interim as the system is being built. Road users should, to the best of their ability, try to operate within the boundaries set by the road system designers. This can include wearing seatbelts, using helmets and buying a safe car within their budget.
Post crash care is an important part of a safe road system. In the event of a crash, effective post crash care, involving emergency treatment and trauma care and rehabilitation, can help reduce the risk of death and serious injuries.
1. World Health Organisation. Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015. Geneva:2015
2. Swedish Transport Administration. (2015). Dr. Matts Ake-Belin [Powerpoint slides]
3. Newstead, S., Delaney, A., Watson, L., & Cameron, M. (2004). A model for considering the ‘total safety’ of the light passenger vehicle fleet. Monash University Accident Research Centre, Report No. 228.